Basalt Town councilors heard a lengthy introduction to preliminary plans for a 155-unit residential subdivision in Sopris Meadows that raised philosophical questions about the town’s “missing middle class.” Project developer Michael Lipkin’s firm, Possumco, LLC, presented its application for the build out of Sopris Meadows’ Parcel 5 on 12 acres located between Willits Lake and Willits Lane at the council’s regular meeting Tuesday night.
“It’s the last of Willits,” said Lipkin, who began developing Willits in 1997.
Of the seven two and three-story buildings Possumco proposed, two would be dedicated to 46 deed-restricted affordable housing rental units for tenants making less than $75,000 a year. But for Lipkin, “the biggest 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 cannot afford to buy a home where they work.
Lipkin said that “half the affordable housing in Basalt is used by people who work in Aspen.” He said Basalt taxpayers should not continue to pay for housing that Aspen businesses need for their own workers. He declined a council request for Possumco to provide bus passes to its affordable housing tenants who work in Aspen. “It’s high time we ask Aspen employers to provide the bus passes,” he said.
“I want to make the strongest case possible to preserve Basalt’s middle class,” Lipkin continued.
He asked the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) staff to consider allowing one of Parcel 5’s affordable rental buildings to be designated for mid-income resident owners and permit that structure to be built first. Assistant Planning Director James Lindt said P&Z and the Basalt Affordable Community Housing Committee “are still reviewing the missing middle proposal” for the second building.
The sentiments most strongly expressed by council members, however, remained with finding ways to turn Basalt’s low-income renters into low-income homeowners, rather than address the missing middle dilemma Lipkin posed. Councilor Elyse Hottel asked if Possumco could build affordable resident-owned units too. She said she “didn’t like the optics that you can rent here but you can’t afford to buy here.”
Lipkin said developing resident-owned, affordable housing is “problematic.” He said that low-income owners have a history of not being able to afford to make repairs on their property, or adequately fund a homeowner association’s reserves. Under Colorado’s construction defect statute, he said, developers are liable for up to seven years after a building’s completion even if a unit’s owner had 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 dwellings received subsidies of about $300,000 per unit from Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit organizations. It is the only affordable home ownership subdivision in Basalt. After the Town Council meeting, P&Z’s Lindt provided figures to The Sopris Sun that show Basalt has a total of 218 deed-restricted units, all of them rentals.
During the meeting, Mayor Bill Kane continued to press Lipkin, challenging him to find ways for low-income earners to “own a piece of the rock. I know you can come up with something clever,” he said.
Economic jitters, the possibility of another pandemic and stiff competition with Aspen for construction workers led Lipkin to request in his application that Possumco be allowed 10 years to complete Parcel 5, rather than seven years.
In other council business, Brikor Associates’ Briston Peterson requested an amendment to the phasing for its Stott’s Mills development, consisting of 113 dwellings, two parks and a day care center. A requirement of Brikor’s 2017 approval was that it must complete the parks and the day care “core and shell” before receiving its fourth and final building permit for the apartment buildings.
Peterson told the Town Council in this first reading that if he could obtain the fourth building permit before the parks and day care are ready, Stott’s Mills’ residences would be completed six months earlier than projected, because more of the work would be done in tandem. “There’s no advantage to drag out the process,” he said. He said that finishing sooner would reduce the cost of the project and result in lower rents.
Councilor Hottel asked what guarantees Brikor could offer that the daycare center would still be completed on time. Peterson said that his “$22 million in person funds” would be a guarantee, and that he had a letter of credit from his bank confirming that he had funds to complete the work.
The council voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance amending Stott’s Mill’s phasing, with Hottel casting the dissenting vote.
Public hearings on both Possumco’s Parcel 5 application and Stott’s Mills continue June 14.
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