Aspen Skiing Co. applies to build 148-bedroom workforce housing project at Willits in Basalt

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen Skiing Co.'s application includes an image that shows where the housing is being proposed in Willits Town Center. Whole Foods is in the upper center of the photo. Highway 82 is on the upper end. Willits Lane is off the photo on the bottom end.
Courtesy image

Aspen Skiing Co. hopes to take a bite out of its affordable housing needs by spending $15 million to build a 148-bedroom project in Willits Town Center.

Skico submitted an application to the town of Basalt at 4:30 p.m. Thursday for what it calls the Willits Workforce Housing Project.

“It’s 100 percent workforce housing,” said Philip Jeffreys, Skico project manager. “It’s on a site that otherwise wouldn’t have had (affordable housing).”

The company has a contract to purchase vacant land known as Block 9 at Willits. That property is along Willits Lane and flanked by a vacant lot purchased by the Steadman Clinic to the east and the future home of The Arts Center at Willits to the west.

Platform Ventures, the landowner and developer of much of Willits, has taken care of its affordable housing obligations elsewhere in the project, so Block 9 was earmarked for a combination of commercial space on the ground floor and free-market residential housing above.

The site is perfect for high-density housing, Jeffreys said, because residents can walk two blocks to a major bus stop on the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority system and they are surrounded by services ranging from grocery stores to numerous bars and restaurants.

“I’ve been trying to do something at Willits since the day I was hired,” Jeffreys said. Skico enlisted him in fall 2016 specifically to work on housing issues.

If this project advances through the Basalt review process, it would be a $15 million investment by Skico, from property acquisition to infrastructure work and construction of the housing, Jeffreys said. Harry Teague Architects has been hired for the design. Skico hopes to build in 2019-20.

The project would have 36 units, including eight that are being offered as deed-restricted housing for workers in Basalt. The first priority would be child care professionals working at a day care center being contemplated nearby in Willits on property owned by the town government.

Jeffreys said Skico’s offer to provide housing for child care workers could help make the day care facility more economically feasible.

The remaining 26 units at Willits Workforce Housing would go to Skico employees. Residences on the second floor of the three-story building would have a unique modern dormitory-style design, with four bedrooms clustered around a kitchen-dining area and small living room, with two additional bedrooms in lofts. The complex would also have one-, two- and four-bedroom units.

“These units are admittedly and unapologetically small,” said Jeffreys.

Skico needs to reap a large number of bedrooms in the project to make the investment pay off, he said. Parts of the units can be locked off from the remainder to make them compatible for families. However, it is anticipated that seasonal workers will live in the majority of the units in winters. They would be potentially available for rent to other workers during summers, which is Basalt’s busiest tourist season.

“ASC’s workforce units will take pressure off of the existing housing pool and provide additional capacity to area businesses in the summer season, thereby serving the community as a whole,” Skico’s application said.

Jeffreys said Skico’s affordable housing shortage is going to intensify in the next few years. The company has 470 employees aged 60 years and older. Many of them live in free-market housing they acquired years ago.

“Due to current economic forces, replacement employees will not be able to move into free-market housing,” Skico’s application said.

Jeffreys said, “How do we replace them and where do we put them?”

Skico estimates it has 700 beds in its housing inventory, in Aspen and downvalley. Land costs in the upper valley are forcing it to focus on options in the midvalley. Skico has already developed a tiny home project in unincorporated Eagle County, adjacent to Basalt.

The application included a Frequently Asked Questions section that includes the entry: “Why should Basalt house Aspen Skiing Company’s employees?”

Skico’s own reply was it is one of the largest employers in Basalt, with roughly 80 employees in an office and warehouse. Skico purchased downtown offices for its finance, legal, planning, reservations and accounting departments.

A different section of the application estimated that the Willits Workforce Housing project would house at least 148 employees making an average of $35,000 annually. That adds more than $5 million in income annually to Basalt and an estimated $750,000 in annual spending at midvalley shops, restaurants and service providers.

Basalt Planning Director Susan Philp said Friday her department hasn’t been able to check the application for completeness yet since it was just submitted. Once deemed complete, it will be scheduled for review by the planning and zoning commission. After an advisory vote, it will advance to the town council. Councilman Auden Schendler, a Skico executive, will recuse himself, he confirmed previously.

The good news for Skico is Willits Town Center already has approvals. Skico must seek two amendments to make its project work, Jeffreys said. It must get permission to convert commercial square footage into deed-restricted community housing on the building’s ground floor. The Block 9 building was pegged for between 7,200 and 7,600 square feet of commercial space, he said.

Second, it must ask the town to remove a “roommate cap” on the site. Basalt’s municipal code prevents more than three unrelated parties from living in the same unit, regardless of unit size or bedroom count, according to Jeffreys.

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