CMC Graphic

A conceptual drawing shared with neighbors at a summer open house depicts a potential Colorado Mountain College-Aspen campus expansion. Officials of the college have emphasized that the concept shared at the open house is not final.

The candy handed out to trick-or-treaters descending on the North Forty during Thursday’s Halloween celebration will be accompanied by messaging concerning the neighborhood’s opposition to high-density student housing at the nearby Colorado Mountain College campus.

Many residents in the neighborhood have come out against the concept floated by the college of expanding the Aspen campus and adding a three-story residence hall for up to 175 people, as depicted in drawings shared at open-house forums last summer.

Hundreds of children and their parents come to the North Forty on Halloween each year for trick-or-treating because of its family-friendly, self-contained nature. Many homeowners go all out for the holiday, adorning their properties with elaborate halloween-related decorations.

This year, there will also be banners and handouts highlighting neighborhood concerns with the student-housing concept.

“They are trying to create awareness and some questions the public can think about, said Jeanette Darnauer, a public relations consultant who is working with the neighbors. The idea is to showcase what kind of neighborhood the North Forty is now and how it could change with the addition of a 175-pillow residence hall.

“This is what they call free-range kids,” Darnauer said. “Everybody in the North Forty — the kids go play in the park until they know to come home for dinner.”

Chief among the concerns is that high-density student housing is incompatible with the character of the existing neighborhood. 

“They are concerned about having it become a residential college as opposed to a local college,” Darnauer said.

The build-out concept shared by CMC this summer would develop most of its lot, placing buildings as close as 100 feet to North Forty homes, she said. 

“Is it appropriate for a college to have a 2.3-acre campus without the amenities that most college campuses have?” Darnauer said, such as outdoor areas to recreate, relax and gather. The concern is that the new residents would use the North Forty’s common areas for those purposes.

Other concerns include traffic and parking issues. 

 The push from the neighbors to leverage the platform they have each year on Halloween comes as the initial developer behind the North Forty and the neighboring Aspen Airport Business Center is asserting that CMC’s concept would violate an agreement it signed when it bought the land in 1999. 

“Sadly the proposed expansion by CMC today to become a residential college for 175 non-resident students violates that agreement entirely and is unacceptable,”John McBride wrote in a letter to the editor published on today’s opinion page. “But the CMC proposal is just not a violation of our agreement, it is an attack on the North Forty neighborhood, who believed CMC would honor the agreement CMC made with me just before the North Forty homeowners bought their lots and built their homes.”

The agreement referenced by McBride is an amendment to the purchase contract between Bidgle LLC, an entity he controlled, and CMC. The college released the contract and the addendum on Tuesday.

The contract amendment states that the college’s site plan, which was developed in cooperation with McBride, would consist of the 27,000-square-foot, two-story building that exists today.

“The parties agree that the design approved hereunder is the final design … ,” the amendment states, though it gives McBride the right to approve future exterior modifications. “Parties further agree that the design of an additional 9,000 square feet is subject to similar design approval by Bidgle, its successors in interest or assigns … .” 

McBride said the contract amendment was intended to cap development on the 100,000-square-foot CMC lot to a maximum density of 36,000 square feet, which he said is in line with the county’s underlying zoning regulations. He said he sold the land for half the market value based on the promise to keep the density low.

CMC officials said Tuesday that they do not read the contract that way and asserted that the college has fulfilled all its obligations under the agreement. 

CMC public information officer Debra Crawford highlighted another section of the amendment that states that all obligations of CMC which are intended to run with the land must be listed in the general warranty deed delivered at closing. That deed “does not list any such obligation owed by CMC,” Crawford wrote in an email.

As a special district governed by state statute, CMC is not required to follow Pitkin County’s regular land-use approval process that a private developer would have to go through. 

However, Crawford said, CMC has “an ethical obligation to consider the needs of the campus neighbors,” which is why officials held outreach sessions over the summer and have been sharing feedback with the college’s board of trustees.  

“We are hearing support from other parts of the community” about the concept that would bring more workforce training capacity to the Aspen area, Crawford said.

Steve Skadron, the former Aspen mayor who is now the dean of the Aspen and Carbondale CMC campuses, emphasized that the concepts shared by college officials this summer were just that. CMC has yet to release a request for proposals for the design of the Aspen campus project. The college’s board of trustees, which has been pursuing the Aspen expansion, has yet to determine how much development they wish to pursue on the site.

“There is no development application on the table yet,” Skadron said. Any development that would happen on the CMC site “needs to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns.”

“If I were a neighbor, I too would be anxious,” he said.

However, the college is committed to working with the neighbors and the community at large to develop a plan that benefits everyone, Skadron said. There will be much discussion in the coming months over what that looks like.

That would be a relief to the neighbors, who feel as though they’ve been “in limbo land and left out of the loop on something that is directly affecting them,” Darnauer said, noting the college’s special powers to pursue its land-use application and the fact that the first open houses on this concept happened just this summer, after HOA representatives showed up at a CMC board meeting to force the issue.

“They would like for it to be a community discussion,” Darnauer said of the North Forty. “They would like there to be a dialogue because they believe that this has been a rushed plan.”

Curtis Wackerle is the editor of Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at curtis@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @CurtisWackerle.