The future of the Lumberyard property at the Aspen Airport Business Center is still up in the air, but local officials have decided that it won’t continue to house Builders First Source’s operations.
The Aspen City Council responded to several key questions about the use of the property during a work session earlier this week. The chips fell on either side of questions regarding child care, commercial space, parking and density, but the direction was clear that the council does not have the appetite to reserve 1.75 acres for the private building-supply business as the city-owned land gets developed for affordable housing.
Consultant Jason Jaynes of DHM Design told councilmembers that a threshold was reached in discussions with the business, which will not accept anything smaller than 1.75 acres, and even then may not have the ability to start from scratch by building a new facility. The development community has voiced its support for having an upper-valley opportunity for purchasing building supplies, but respondents outside of the development community feel differently.
“We also heard from the broader general public that they would rather see the site leveraged for housing,” Jaynes said.
Councilmember Rachel Richards joined Ward Hauenstein and Skippy Mesirow in shooting down the option for some sort of building-supply company on the site, even if it were operated by a different business. She pointed out that housing funds were used to purchase the land, and reserving part of it for free-market use would not be appropriate.
“I don’t know how we could legally, with the constraints, allow it to go forward anyhow,” Richards said.
The council gave less definitive direction for other big-picture questions that are still being sorted out through public outreach and stakeholder meetings. Councilmember Ann Mullins called the Lumberyard property a blank canvas, which means there is great potential for myriad results, but also the risk of overanalyzing and not moving forward with something.
Chris Everson, the city’s affordable housing project manager, agreed that plans are still in a nascent phase, especially as they relate to other new developments underway in Burlingame, Waterplace and three rental properties that are going online this year.
“This one is the furthest behind,” Everson said.
Jaynes told councilmembers that in the outreach that has been conducted, it is clear the community has mixed expectations for the housing development. Among those, he cited density, mixed use and child care facilities on the property.
“We are not going to get to a place of community consensus,” he said.
Hauenstein said public outreach thus far has asked individuals what they would prefer in a new housing development, but it’s up to the council to consider broader needs.
“We are asking what does the community need, so there are conflicting values here,” he said.
Like the public, council was split on the appropriate density for the lot. Three hypothetical layouts were presented at the meeting, showing a range of 140 to 215 new units. Mayor Torre and Mesirow broke from the rest of council, saying even the top numbers were not dense enough.
“We need this to be a housing-first project,” Mesirow said. “There is no reason we can’t get 500 units here.”
Mullins disagreed, saying at some point too much housing is not a benefit to the residents.
“Yes we need more housing but bottom line we are trying to create a community, she said. “[We need] whatever density allows for other amenities that create a strong community.”
Councilmembers also disagreed about providing parking for the new apartments. The concepts shown include ground-level or subgrade parking in order to keep the visual effect of new housing to two stories. The area’s zoning allows for three-story buildings.
Several council members expressed concern about the price tag of building underground parking. Torre, Hauenstein and Mesirow all suggested providing less than the standard one-car-per-bedroom rate, or requiring residents to park three miles away at the Brush Creek Park and Ride, formerly known as the Intercept Lot.
Richards, who resides in affordable housing, said placing additional burdens on the workforce that will be living in the new units was akin to creating a class system of local residents.
“I don’t like saying that people who live in affordable housing are second-class citizens, and don’t have a right to a car that those in the free market do,” Richards said.
The conversation about parking was intertwined with the question of a mixed-use commercial element on the site. Again the council was mixed, with some saying the AABC could provide all business needs for the new residents and there should not be stores, services or restaurants on site.
Others questioned if the current offerings or potential real estate in the AABC could handle the influx, and what the unintended consequences would be if there were a dearth of commercial offerings nearby.
“If there is something that is not available in the AABC, then people are driving to get it,” Mullins said.
Lastly, councilmembers said they were open to a reserved space for child care on the premises, but wanted the decision to be considered in the context of several other potential child care facilities coming online, including one in Burlingame and one at the North 40 Fire Station.
The project team will take the feedback from this week and continue to refine alternative conceptual drawings. Groundbreaking for the project is projected to be in 2025.