Aspen City Council agreed to move forward with an $11 million land purchase at Tuesday night’s meeting that is intended to enhance a future affordable housing development near the Aspen Airport Business Center.
The 3-acre parcel is currently home of Aspen Mini Storage and is adjacent to the city-owned lumberyard property, which was purchased in 2008 in an affordable housing land banking effort. The lumberyard development is now in its earliest conceptual phase, having just wrapped up a months-long public outreach campaign. Scott Miller, interim assistant city manager and public works director, said that the addition of the mini storage lot allows for more flexibility.
“It’s an exciting piece of ground, and obviously it shares a property line with the lumberyard, so it gives us a larger, more developable parcel and gives us more options for development,” Miller said.
A contract to purchase the land was signed by City Manager Sara Ott on Sept. 23, contingent on council’s approval. The contract has a list of other stipulations that could allow the city to back out of the deal without penalty within 31 days, if council is not satisfied with the results of an appraisal of the property and an environmental inspection.
“The public has told us for every piece of ground we buy they want a professional appraisal and that's what we're doing,” Miller said.
The city has been in talks to buy the property for several months and worked with Andrew Ernemann of Aspen Snowmass Sotheby's to calculate the offer price. The property was not formally listed.
“We think we made a competitive offer, that’s why we made it,” Miller said. “That’s the deal with buying real estate when the market is hot. You've got to make an offer that’s appealing to the seller.”
Right now the city is proposing to pay the full price from an earmarked affordable housing fund with a balance that sits comfortably above $20 million. Other financing strategies such as a bond might be proposed in the future, but would require public approval.
“We have quite a bit of housing development coming down the pipeline, so there is a possibility that we may leverage the housing development funds and do some kind of a debt offering,” Miller said.
The lumberyard has been grouped together with the final phase of Burlingame Ranch and new housing for city employees at Water Place in a public outreach campaign dubbed “Framing the Future.”
Last month, affordable housing development project manager Chris Everson presented the Framing the Future feedback to council. The community expressed a desire for the lumberyard to have a diverse range of development on the property, including for-sale and rental units, as well as commercial or retail space, with the potential to leave some fraction of the Builders FirstSource lumberyard on site as well.
“Staff plans to update the scope of work for the lumberyard community outreach and conceptual design effort to include this property and to seek participants in a series of stakeholder round table discussions on how to appropriately plan the addition of this property into the overall affordable housing development plan for this site,” Everson wrote in a memo to council.
The memo also stated that the additional property doesn’t necessarily mean more buildings. The land could be used for creating better traffic flow from the lumberyard into the Aspen Airport Business Center instead of relying solely on the exit on to Highway 82 that the lumberyard currently shares with Mountain Rescue Aspen.
Miller pointed out that the newly seated council has made housing its top priority, and believes the new purchase will help attain that.
“It’s big enough that I’m certain it could help us with access, and give us more affordable housing,” Miller said. “It will help council meet their biggest goal.”