When review of Aspen Skiing Co.’s $15 million housing project at Willits Town Center by the Basalt Town Council continues Tuesday night, “everything will be on the table,” according to vice president of communications Jeff Hanle.
Unlike SkiCo’s other Mid-Valley housing that it developed, the tiny homes at the KOA campground which encountered little opposition, the 36-unit, 148-bed Willits Block 9 proposal has seen some serious pushback from the public as well as appointed and elected officials.
Hanle said this week that SkiCo has reflected upon the criticism and will respond to those concerns during the May 28 town meeting, which continues the hearing started during a rancorous session on May 14.
“We are considering our options and will continue meeting with Basalt officials to discuss them,” Hanle said, in response to a question of whether the application would be pulled. “We will see what direction we’re given” by the council.
To date, the direction from the town’s planning and zoning commission, the council and well as some members of the public has been loud and clear. The project’s parking plan, which calls for 33 spaces of on-street parking augmented by a 34-vehicle lot to satisfy the 67-space requirement, is seen by some as a fatal flaw. Instead, many have pushed for an actual parking structure.
Also heavily scrutinized is a six-bedroom unit – a size that is currently not allowed by a town code that restricts the number of unrelated persons who can inhabit a dwelling. As proposed, the Willits project includes one, two, three and four bedroom units as well as the sole six-bedroom apartment.
“This is transient housing,” said Alan Feldman, who lives nearby and said he has an office at Willits. “If you want a dormitory for the lowest paid people in SkiCo, that’s your prerogative.”
Of the six-bedroom unit, SkiCo’s Hanle responded, “This is something that is being looked at across the country to meet affordable housing options.”
The recently released regional housing study identified a shortfall of 3,900 affordable housing units in the region, which it projects will balloon to 5,700 units within a decade.
“It won’t quietly go away on its own,” said David Corbin, SkiCo’s senior vice president of development. The company started a dozen years ago offering housing to some of its 4,100 total employees, a staff number that has remained constant for years, he said.
Approximately 1,200 of those SkiCo workers are full-time, year-round employees; nearly 500 workers reside in and around Basalt, the company has stated.
All told, there are about 700 beds in the SkiCo’s housing inventory, with 244 beds (in 104 units) located in Basalt and the Mid-Valley. Those are found in the tiny homes project, Sopris View and Thunder River apartments and Keator Grove in Carbondale.
In trying to increase that Mid-Valley stock, however, issues that address the community’s social fabric have arisen.
SkiCo was pilloried by some attendees of the May 14 council meeting for developing units outside of the upper valley, where its original employee housing foray was at Club Commons in Snowmass Village.
Why was Willits chosen for this development? According to SkiCo project manager Phillip Jeffreys, one of the biggest challenges is finding a piece of land. The mixed-use development also has an existing PUD that allows for multi-family buildings and is transit-oriented.
“Basalt gets affordable housing. You understand the challenges and you value partnerships. You also understand regionalism,” Jeffreys said.
The scale of the valley’s housing shortage, underscored by the recent study from RRC Associates and Economic & Planning Systems, “is incredibly daunting,” Jeffreys noted.
“Daunting” could also be used to describe some of the pushback, which seems to have unearthed long-festering issues tied to growth, income inequality and fairness.
“Why does Basalt have to fund employees for the employers upvalley?”opined local resident Rich Grant. He was among those who speculated that the town lacks the property tax base to subsidize what could be some unintended consequences of the project, including the need for increased transit and child care costs.
As proposed, eight of the deed-restricted units in the SkiCo’s Willits project would be reserved for those in the daycare field.
Councilor Jen Riffle decried the potential loss of annual sales tax revenue by using the Willits lot for housing rather than commercial space. “That’s our future,” she said.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt asked that the company “run the numbers” on a parking garage, which they previously said would cost in the $3 million range and could be cost-prohibitive to an already pricey project.
“This will not be affordable housing for the community of workers in Basalt, though there are some SkiCo employees that work in Basalt. It’s company housing for SkiCo,” Whitsitt said.
The council meeting begins at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 28 in Basalt Town Hall.