Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposed ‘dorm’ passes first test in Basalt, with some reservations

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
An architect's drawing shows how Aspen Skiing Co.'s housing project in Willits Town Center might look. Harry Teague Architects was hired to work on the design.
Courtesy image

Aspen Skiing Co.’s proposal to build a dorm-style affordable-housing project in Basalt passed the first of many tests Thursday night that it will face in the town government review process.

The Basalt Affordable Community Housing commission decided to advise the Town Council that the high-density project is appropriate at Willits Town Center, but there are some important community issues to discuss.

Commission members Cathy Click and Doug MacDonald repeatedly pressed the point that the project benefits Skico with its affordable housing shortage but doesn’t necessarily help Basalt.

“That’s the elephant in the room,” MacDonald said.

“This project is about flexibility for us and staying in business.”Philip Jeffreys Skico project manager

Skico has proposed to build a 148-bedroom project along Willits Lane on vacant land known as Block 9. It’s just two blocks from the major RFTA bus stop near Whole Foods Market.

The project would have 36 units, including eight that would be offered as deed-restricted affordable housing with a priority for day care workers.

The remaining 26 units would go to Skico employees. They would be six-bedroom units with a smaller number of one-, two- and four-bedrooms. The largest units would have four bedrooms clustered around a kitchen-dining area and living room, with two additional bedrooms in a loft.

Skico employees would be charged between $500 and $550 per room with leases ranging from six to 12 months, according to Philip Jeffreys, Skico project manager.

Skico has diverse needs as the operator of four ski areas, 14 restaurants and three hotels, Jeffreys said. The project is vital to retaining employees.

“This is why we lose close to half of our people, because of housing,” he said. “This is for everyone from cook to pastry chef to concierge, IT, engineering, lift operator.”

Various departments in Skico would be allocated a certain number of units.

Click pressed Jeffreys on the point that the project won’t help Basalt reduce its current deficit of affordable housing. The town has a “gap” between demand and supply of more than 500 units, according to recent studies, Assistant Planning Director James Lindt said.

Click said Skico’s project would house people that aren’t necessarily living in Basalt now and will be traveling upvalley to their jobs each day.

How much bigger does Aspen Skiing Co. intend to get, Click asked, and will it continue to look downvalley — away from its primary employment centers in Aspen and Snowmass Village — for housing solutions?

Jeffreys said young people who come to the valley have so few options for housing. This will help them get a toehold, he said, and it will provide longer-term options for some workers. He also noted that numerous Skico employees live in Basalt. Some people who start in the proposed type of housing will likely end up seeking other housing in the midvalley as they become permanent members of the community, he said.

“This project is about flexibility for us and staying in business,” Jeffreys said.

He also noted that there is no guarantee the site will be used for affordable housing if Skico’s project doesn’t fly. The developer of Willits Town Center, Kansas City-based Platform Ventures, has met its affordable-housing obligations. Block 9 was slated for commercial development on the ground floor and free-market residences on the upper stories. A nearby site is being developed with row houses that will sell in excess of $1 million.

“If we don’t build this, how is the next project going to help Basalt?” Jeffreys asked the housing board members. “Do we need more luxury condos? Is that going to help Basalt?”

Click, MacDonald and Ann Baker, the three housing commission members present for the discussion, said they would be more supportive of the project if additional units were available to employees at-large. They feel that topic should be explored further with Skico.

But as MacDonald noted, Skico is financing the project. The town government doesn’t have the funds to pursue a housing project on the site, and no other developer is coming forward with a project of this type, with 100 percent affordable housing.

“It’s a little hard to say we don’t want this if we don’t have the ability to seek an alternative,” he said.

Skico’s project is scheduled to go before the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission for an initial review on April 2. Once that board makes an advisory vote, the review will advance to the Town Council.

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