Pitkin County preserves affordable housing with purchase
December 21, 2016
Pitkin County commissioners took a big step Wednesday toward sustaining affordable housing in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
The county board, which has been looking for opportunities to increase Pitkin County's stock of affordable housing, agreed in principle Wednesday to spend as much as $7.5 million to buy the Phillips Mobile Home Park in Old Snowmass.
"What this acquisition does, principally, is keep 60 people in their homes," County Attorney John Ely said. "There's no way our current affordable-housing inventory could accommodate them.
"They would be in dire straits."
Commissioners were happy to support the purchase, which includes 76.3 acres on both sides of the Roaring Fork River along Lower River Road.
"I don't know how we can not move forward with this," said Commissioner George Newman, noting that preventing 60 people from being evicted is a "classic example" of the county taking care of its residents.
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Commissioner Michael Owsley, who will retire at the end of the year after three terms on the county board, echoed those comments.
"This is a deep commitment on the part of the county to its citizens," he said. "This property presents infinite possibilities for the betterment of life in Pitkin County.
"I'm really proud to be part of that commitment."
The trailer park property, located at 3558 Lower River Road, was first purchased by Concer and Ellamae Phillips in 1933 from its original homesteader, Joseph Diemoz, according to a memo from Ely to commissioners. Not long after, the couple developed the property into a trailer park, the memo states.
"Following Concer's death, Ellamae continued to run the property as a trailer park until her death in 2001, at which time care of the property passed on to one of the Phillips' daughters, Helen Noyes," according to Ely's memo. "Ms. Noyes maintained the property as affordable housing without any requirement to do so."
In fact, the de-facto affordable housing offered at the Phillips Mobile Home Park is "substantially below the market price" and is even well below trailer park rates charged further downvalley in the El Jebel area, Ely said Wednesday at the meeting.
However, Noyes and her son, who now manage the trailer park, can no longer afford the costs involved with operating and maintaining the property, according to the memo. Noyes and her son are the only members of the Phillips family still living in the Roaring Fork Valley, with the rest of the family in "far-flung" areas, Ely said.
Consequently, the property must be sold, he said.
Typically in such a situation, the approximately 60 residents would be evicted, and the property would be re-graded and re-vegetated and sold on the open market, Ely said. In that scenario, the site would eventually see two or three large, single-family home sites, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.
However, the family does not want to evict the residents, many of whom have been living there for significant periods of time, Ely said. So they approached the county about buying the property, he said.
It will be up to the county board to later decide whether to subdivide the property and create lots for "stick-built houses," modular housing or possibly "tiny houses," or simply maintain the status quo, Ely said. In addition, the property includes three large, irrigated fields with water rights and an undeveloped southern portion, he said.
The county may decide to sell off portions of the property not involved in the affordable-housing area, or allow other county entities like the Open Space and Trails Program or the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board to manage those areas, he said.
If the county sells off portions of the property, that money would be put back into the county's affordable-housing fund, Ely said. The money to buy the property will come from the county's Employee Housing Impact Fee, according to a proposed ordinance approving the purchase.
The county will spend no more than $7.5 million to buy the property. The final price will be based on inspection of the property and infrastructure, including water supply and septic systems, Ely said. The current septic system is overtaxed and will have to be upgraded, though it continues to function adequately, he said.
The purchase of the Phillips property is part of a renewed effort by Pitkin County to provide more affordable housing to both its employees and residents in general, Peacock said. The county plans to spend $9 million in 2017 to expand those efforts, he has said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper, a resident of Smuggler Trailer Park in Aspen, was particularly supportive of the Phillips purchase. Close proximity to neighbors that trailer parks provide engenders a sense of community, she said.
"I live in a 1967 single-wide trailer," she said. "It's one of the best places to live in the county.
"It's critical to make this happen."
The Phillips Mobile Home Park is the fourth trailer park the county has preserved, she said.