Aspen, Pitkin County mull Centennial repairs
April 6, 2011
ASPEN – Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners generally agreed during a Tuesday work session to move ahead with incremental assistance to homeowners in the Centennial affordable-housing complex, which faces a mold problem due to moisture damage from inadequate sealing and drainage designs.
The mold is not toxic, and the extent of the damage to the 92 owner-occupied units is not exactly known, Assistant City Manager Barry Crook told the city and county elected officials. The problems have existed in one form or another for more than 20 years, according to a recent city memorandum.
Centennial Homeowners Association (HOA) representatives said that based on a study they commissioned, the units might require $10 million worth of repairs, or about $100,000 per unit, and have asked for some financial assistance from the city and county along with the lifting of deed restrictions that establish the condos as worker housing. Crook, however, told the elected officials that the work might be handled for around $7,000 per unit, or less than $700,000.
“The HOA’s proposal of a ‘$10 million fix that must be accompanied by the lifting of deed restrictions’ is unnecessary to the problems that exist with the buildings,” the memorandum by Crook, Capital Asset Director Scott Miller and Capital Asset Project Manager Steve Bossart states.
“That is the inevitable conclusion one would draw by a review of the experts hired by the city and whose findings have been agreed to by the HOA’s consultants,” the memo adds.
The $10 million project would deconstruct the entire outer shell of every building, going beyond what is necessary to reasonably deal with the structural issues and stop water intrusion, according to the memo.
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Because the extent of the damage is not fully known, officials said a more comprehensive and independent study may be needed. But one consultant at the meeting suggested doing repairs and mold remediation work on only a handful of units in order to accurately gauge costs before embarking on an expensive study.
County Commissioner Michael Owsley, who chaired the meeting, pointed out to homeowners and their representatives that the officials were gathered Tuesday for informational purposes only – to provide direction to city and county staff – not to come up with specific solutions.
“I’m thinking there is good news in this [city] report in that the problem is more manageable than what we had been told,” he said.
Other comments at the meeting revolved around the perception that the HOA – which has been warned intermittently about the water intrusion and mold issues for two decades – has not done enough on its own to tackle the problem. Through its collection of dues for capital reserve funds, the HOA could have made repairs for a lot less money 20 years ago, when the problems came to the forefront in a 1991 study, compared with today’s costs.
“While some repairs were done, and [HOA] assessments were increased slightly, by and large the experts’ recommendations were not heeded,” the city’s memo states. “… Had the HOA accepted the recommendations of their consultants and property managers over the years, they would not now be facing the work that is in front of them. The magnitude of the recommended work is within the capability of the HOA and homeowners.”
Commissioner Jack Hatfield said he wonders why the county and city are involved in the matter today.
“This has been on the table forever,” he said. “I agree completely with the conclusion that the government should not be involved any further in this. It’s not our responsibility. You must have your own capital reserves. You must manage your own association [and] understand that sometimes, in affordable housing … things might not have been built or designed appropriately.
“When you live in those complexes, you’ve got to take the bull by the horns and do what’s right. And that goes for affordable-housing complexes or free market. No difference there,” Hatfield said. “The cause and the fix is not our responsibility.”
However, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said government does have a stake in the issue because the county owns the deed restrictions on the property. He said the city and county can’t just walk away from Centennial and say, “It’s your problem.”
He said “there wasn’t good control” on the development process for Centennial in the 1980s because the engineering was done at a savings. “The ‘value engineering’ means that things were overlooked,” Ireland said.
Commissioner Rob Ittner commented that in the future, the city and county may need to have a mechanism ensuring that affordable-housing homeowner associations will protect their assets.
Charles Matthews, president of the Centennial HOA, said it’s hard for the homeowners to believe that the repairs and remediation will cost less than $10 million.
“We are responsible but we may need your help with a creative solution,” he said.
HOA vice president Ed Cross objected to comments that the board hasn’t undertaken repairs over the years, pointing to various projects. He said the repairs and mold remediation will cost a lot more than the city estimates.
“We need a real number on the costs,” Cross said.
Owsley vowed that discussions between government staff and the HOA would continue.