The Basalt Town Council this week approved the Aspen Skiing Co.’s third application for workforce housing on block 9 in Willits. Previous plans met opposition from members of the community and some Basalt town council members over parking issues and whether or not that housing is a good fit for the Willits neighborhood.
Opposition formed against the project because: SkiCo asked for public parking spaces to be included; some neighbors considered the project to be more of a “dorm” and inconsistent with neighboring families and some Mid-Valley residents felt that SkiCo’s employee housing should be located in the upper valley.
At the June 25 meeting of the Basalt Town Council, the project manager for SkiCo’s Willits development team, Philip Jeffreys, and David Corbin, SkiCo’s senior vice president of planning and development, detailed the third plan for the project and, once again, emphasized why it is good for regional affordable housing.
Jim Laing, the company’s senior vice president of human resources, and president and CEO Mike Kaplan, pitched in their reasons for why the project should be approved. Kaplan dismissed the idea that the company was exporting its Upper Valley problems to the Mid-Valley, calling that thinking “small.” Laing pointed out that over 500 SkiCo employees now live in Basalt, and that more than 90 work in Basalt.
In its current request, SkiCo expanded off-street parking, added some commercial spaces in the first floor corners of the building and altered the mix of units. As amended, the plan increases the overall unit count to 43 (from 36), and increases the bedroom count to 150 (from 148). The plan revises the unit mix to include five one-bedroom units, two two-bedrooms, five three-bedrooms and 31 four-bedroom units.
Because of the perceived shortage of construction workers in the valley, new tariffs on many building materials and switching to smaller units which adds more kitchen, walls, doors, windows, parking and tap fees, SkiCo is asking for 35 on-street parking spaces to be dedicated to the block 9 employee housing at no cost to the project, and for the $150,000 Willits Town Center daycare impact fee to be waived.
Parking spurs most discourse
Over the course of the previous two plans for SkiCo employee housing in Willits on block 9, parking has spurred the most discussion and opposition. Many neighbors pushed the council to ask the company to build underground parking for the project, eliminating the need to use public spaces for the building parking.
But the SkiCo has countered that the $40,000 per parking space cost would drive up the total cost of the project by $3-4 million and would make the project “far less attractive to us,” according to Philip Jeffreys in a letter to the town accompanying its third application.
Jeffreys and SkiCo also pointed out in their letter that they hope the town can see this project as a “contribution towards our valley’s housing shortage.”
“There is no perfect workforce housing which is exactly why so few come forward voluntarily,” he noted. The Willits project represents one of the biggest workforce housing projects in the past decade in the Mid-Valley, according to SkiCo’s letter.
At Tuesday night’s town council meeting, many members of the public spoke both for and against the project. Several locals working in the daycare industry appeared before council and spoke of the need for additional daycare workers in the Mid-Valley and supported SkiCo’s application. Basalt resident Carol Hawk commented to Kaplan that if the company can spend $8 million on the backside of Aspen Mountain then they should be able to afford underground parking for the Willits project.
Later, Kaplan noted that his development team had done such a good job compromising on the project’s plans that the overall cost had gone up by “one-third.”
With parking being the biggest issue in SkiCo’s first and second applications, Jim Charlier of Charlier Associates, a Boulder transportation planning firm, outlined a parking audit they undertook for the project in 2017. Charlier gave his opinion that sufficient on-street parking in Willits does exist and that the biggest issue is management of that parking. Charlier worked with the developer and was responsible for the original parking design of Willits.
“The idea of a shared parking model is that you might have to walk a half a block or a block to find your parking space,” noted Charlier. “The idea is that it’s going to be a very busy place, and the parking will be highly utilized. That’s the model that was used.”