Basalt city councilors heard a lengthy introduction to preliminary plans for a 155-unit residential development in Sopris Meadows that raised philosophical questions about the city’s “missing middle class.” Project developer Michael Lipkin’s company, Possumco, LLC, submitted its bid to build the 12-acre Sopris Meadows Parcel 5 located between Willits Lake and Willits Lane at the regular council meeting on Tuesday evening.
“It’s the last of the Willits,” said Lipkin, who began developing Willits in 1997.
Of the seven two- and three-story buildings proposed by Possumco, two would be dedicated to 46 restricted-deed affordable rental units for tenants earning less than $75,000 a year. But for Lipkin, “the bigger issue is what Basalt is going to do to preserve its middle-income residents,” like lawyers and doctors. Even with incomes of $250,000 to $300,000 a year, Lipkin said, they can’t afford to buy a house where they work.
Lipkin said “half of Basalt’s affordable housing is used by people who work in Aspen.” He said Basalt ratepayers should not continue to pay for the housing Aspen businesses need for their own workers. He refused a council request for Possumco to provide bus passes to its affordable housing tenants who work in Aspen. “It’s high time we asked employers in Aspen to provide bus passes,” he said.
“I want to make the strongest possible case for preserving the middle class of Basalt,” Lipkin continued.
He asked Planning and Zoning (P&Z) staff to consider allowing one of the affordable rental properties in Parcel 5 to be designated for middle-income resident landlords and to allow construction of this structure first. Deputy Director of Planning James Lindt said P&Z and Basalt’s Affordable Community Housing Committee “are still reviewing the missing interim proposal” for the second building.
The sentiments most strongly expressed by council members, however, remained to find ways to turn Basalt’s low-income tenants into low-income landlords, rather than solving the missing middle dilemma posed by Lipkin. Councilor Elyse Hottel asked if Possumco could also build affordable, resident-owned units. She said she “didn’t like the optics you can rent here, but you can’t afford to buy here”.
Lipkin said the development of affordable, resident-owned housing is “problematic.” He said low-income homeowners are used to not being able to afford repairs to their property or adequately fund a homeowners association’s reserves. Under Colorado’s construction defects law, he said, developers are liable for up to seven years after a building is completed, even if a unit’s owner has not maintained the property.
“I can’t sell a project that has the possibility of legal liability,” he said.
Lipkin pointed out that Basalt Vista’s 27 resident-owned units have received grants of about $300,000 per unit from Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits. It is the only affordable home ownership development in Basalt. After the city council meeting, P&Z’s Lindt provided figures to The Sopris Sun that show Basalt has a total of 218 restricted-act units, all of which are rented.
During the meeting, Mayor Bill Kane continued to pressure Lipkin, challenging him to find ways for low-income people to “own a piece of rock.” I know you can come up with something clever,” he said.
Economic jitters, the possibility of another pandemic, and fierce competition with Aspen for construction workers led Lipkin to request in its application that Possumco be given 10 years to complete Parcel 5, instead of seven years.
In other council business, Briston Peterson of Brikor Associates has requested a change in the phasing of his development of Stott’s Mills, consisting of 113 homes, two parks and a day care centre. A requirement of Brikor’s 2017 approval was that it had to complete the “core and shell” parks and day care center before receiving its fourth and final building permit for the apartment buildings.
Peterson told city council during this first reading that if he could get the fourth building permit before the parks and day care center were ready, Stott’s Mills residences would be completed six months ahead of schedule, as a higher much of the work would be done in tandem. . “There’s no benefit in dragging out the process,” he said. He said finishing sooner would reduce the cost of the project and lead to lower rents.
Councilor Hottel asked what guarantees Brikor could offer that the daycare would still be finished on time. Peterson said his “$22 million in personal funds” would be collateral and that he had a letter of credit from his bank confirming he had funds to complete the work.
The council voted 6 to 1 to approve an ordinance changing the phasing of Stott’s Mill, with Hottel casting the dissenting vote.
Public hearings on the Possumco and Stott’s Mills Parcel 5 application continue on June 14.
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