The Centennial Apartments, pictured, were discussed at a Tuesday Aspen City Council meeting where council members gave feedback on a proposal to replace the rental units with 148 new affordable rental units. 

At a regular meeting on Tuesday, Aspen City Council was joined by the city Planning and Zoning Commission to hear from staff and a development team about a proposal to replace the rental units at Centennial Apartments with 148 new affordable rental units. 

Council and the commission were asked for feedback on the project, and the one question that circulated during the more-than-two-hour meeting was simple: where will the residents who live in those rental apartments live in the interim during construction?

There is currently no set plan for when construction would begin or how long it would take, but residents would need to temporarily relocate. Officials from Birge and Held, the development team, and city staff agreed that interim housing is the No. 1 concern. According to a memo by Principal Long-Range Planner Ben Anderson, the importance of the Centennial project to Aspen’s affordable housing inventory cannot be overstated. 

“It has for more than three decades provided affordable housing availability for Aspen’s workforce and their families,” the memo says. “While the possibility of a temporary loss of housing and the need for relocation for a large number of Aspen residents is in staff’s view the issue of most significant concern, there are potential outcomes to the proposed project that would have community benefit, and could result in the permanence of the deed restrictions and the long-term viability of the Centennial units as quality affordable housing.”

Chris Bendon, Birge and Held representative, said that the team is hoping the city and Pitkin County will act as interim housing partners and help come up with creative solutions, such as moving residents into alternate affordable units elsewhere in the community. He added that the current buildings could stand for another 30 years and the reason for moving forward with upgrading the property is to create more affordable housing. 

“This is a lived-in place, so folks are very concerned about what is going to happen with their residence and how they are impacted,” he said. “The market is very tight, so this is a trickier conversation than you might hear practically anywhere else, because tenants aren’t able to just sort of go across the street, across town to lease a new place.”

He added that the soonest the approval process can be expected to be completed is in 18-24 months’ time. Residents have expressed concern over the timing of the project and how they can be kept informed. Residents have also expressed interest in signing up to be first on the list to move back in, Bendon said. 

Residents who appeared before the council on Tuesday said that they worry about the interim housing. One resident said the issue comes down to her needing housing, and not having it will make it impossible for her to do her job. Another said she’s lived in Centennial Apartments for eight years and her unit is scheduled to be demolished. 

“It’s a hard thing to have something you’ve worked hard for ripped out from under your feet,” she said. 

Council members also expressed concerns about a number of issues, interim housing being the major one. Mayor Torre added that construction would add more waste to the Pitkin County landfill, which only has a life expectancy of eight more years. He also said he would push for more affordable housing units over free market units. The project also proposes 59 additional free market units on the property. 

“We are talking about lived-in units, and those people need to come first in our thoughts about moving forward with this,” Torre said. “I do see challenges, but I am still involved. I am not sitting at this table now wanting to walk away from this. I have an open ear for it and I hope that we can tackle these challenges. I hope this can be something that is a benefit to our community and if it is not, I would not be supporting it going forward.”

Council supported acting as a partner in the search for interim housing and more to seek solutions to various aspects of the project. After hearing from several members of the public, council continued to discuss the issue and did not come to a conclusion as of press time.