Aspen officials back centennial redevelopment, with caveats


While Aspen City Council on Tuesday expressed support for a private developer to demolish 148 affordable housing units in the Centennial rental complex and replace them with deed-restricted apartments in perpetuity in exchange for building 59 condos on the Market on the 10.5-acre parcel, elected officials have sparked a litany of concerns that must be addressed before the proposal gains traction in the community.

First and foremost, where the approximately 255 people who currently reside there are going to live in the interim, which is the number one concern of council members.

“The relocation, the transition, the actual moving costs for people, that stuff is a priority for me and it needs to be handled well,” said City Councilor Rachel Richards.

Jeff Solomon, project manager and landlord representative for Birge & Held, a national apartment owners, management and development company that purchased the Centennial rental complex in 2020 for almost $ 51 million, said he was working with the city and other developers to potentially partner up and find a solution to the displacement of the current residents.

“We keep in close contact with residents and neighbors so that we can maintain a solid understanding of the real impacts that a project of this magnitude would have on the community of Aspen,” he said, adding that he There is a potential phase of the project to reduce the impact on people having to move all at once.

Council and members of the city’s planning and zoning commission met with representatives from Birge & Held on Tuesday in what is known as a plan review process designed for both parties to determine if there are sufficient common interests to pursue a redevelopment of the property.

The process initiates a conversation without the parameters of a traditional land use request and allows for a non-binding conversation so the property team has a sense of what officials think about their proposal, according to Ben Anderson, the lead planner at long term of the city.

Board members have stated that they are ready to enter into a public-private partnership with Birge & Held if certain parameters can be met.

Council and Planning and Zoning members expressed concerns about density in an already overcrowded eastern neighborhood with its own existing traffic problems, as well as the contribution to construction and demolition waste at the landfill. county; a lack of parking in the proposed development; and not enough attenuation for growth.

The developer intends to offset its affordable housing mitigation requirements for the open market component of the project by offering the deed-restricted units in perpetuity.

Richards and other council members expressed concern that open market apartments would become short-term rentals, which has become a burden on the community.

“Sadly, we’re all seeing open markets turn into short-term rentals and become a default lodge that doesn’t pay the property taxes on commercial property,” Richards said.

New Centennial, LLC, operated by Birge and Held, is the development company with a denser plot, so instead of less than 15 units per acre, it would be 21 units per acre.

The new apartments for rent on the open market would serve as an economic engine for the project.

The entire property would eventually become a free market, based on approvals and conditions imposed by Pitkin County Commissioners in the 1980s.

Deed restrictions on apartments expire at the end of the 21st year after the death of the last member of the Pitkin County Commissioners Council, who approved the development. That person is Michael Kinsley, a resident of Old Snowmass, who is 70 years old.

The city of Aspen in 2019 was to buy the restrictions in the deed for $ 10 million, but the deal fell through as the previous owner and the city couldn’t agree on the terms.

There are currently 41 studios; 48 one-bedrooms; 45 two-bedroom units; and 14 three-bedroom units at the Centennial.

The existing complex has a total area of ​​104,636 square feet with an average area of ​​707 square feet.

In general terms, the mix of existing units would be replaced in a similar fashion, although the average unit size would increase from 707 square feet to about 830 square feet per unit, according to Anderson.

The 59 open market units are expected to be 1,725 ​​square feet each and would be primarily three-bedroom units in mostly three-story buildings, but some would grow to four stories in places.

This is a compromise for some council members, including Councilor Ward Hauenstein, who will not be able to intervene in future quasi-judicial hearings because he lives within 300 feet of the project but was allowed to speak during the the informal meeting on Tuesday.

“It seems to me that from my experience in Aspen and over the last four years or so at this table, the fourth floor becomes a third rail,” he said. “I want as much workforce housing as possible and as few open market units as possible.”

The project would provide 375 parking spaces for residents and guests of the 207 units. Currently there are 231 parking spaces, and most residents say that is not enough.

A handful of Centennial tenants spoke out on Tuesday, begging elected officials to protect their interests and the workforce that supports the resort community.

Eight-year centennial resident Kat Schultz swallowed back tears as she addressed the council.

“My unit needs to be demolished and it’s a difficult thing to have something you have worked so hard to accomplish ripped from under your feet and I understand development, I understand progress and all of that has its place,” said she declared. “Even if these apartments are replaced, the act of this mysterious displacement and the way it will be managed and where we live could be enough to break people up financially, emotionally so that they cannot come back and what the hell will this do to this city? Who will serve you your food and your wine, who will sell you your Gucci, your Prada, who will take the chairlift up when you want to ski? What do we do with these people and how much do we value their presence in our community? “

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