Affordable housing rail cars and shed can stay, transportation authority says
April 12, 2002
Two old railroad cars that serve as affordable housing and a rusting yellow shed in Gerbazdale were spared the wrecking ball, or at least the moving truck, yesterday.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors voted unanimously to allow the two railroad cars, both of which date back to the early 20th century, and the shed to remain on a railroad right of way.The decision hands the fate of the structures back to Pitkin County, which raised issue with their location last year.The cars currently house two local couples, and the shed, built in the mid-1900s by Del Gerbaz, is home to an antique Jeep, a boat and other personal belongings of longtime Aspen resident W.R. Walter. The rail cars and shed are separately owned. The land underneath all three structures is owned by RFTA, which rents the space to the building owners.The transit authority directors agreed that the rail car owners should be required to make the cars as safe as possible for renters. But they also recognized that the cars’ age would make it impossible to meet the most recent standards of the county building code.In their decision, the directors, who are charged with overseeing operations, planning and spending at the bus agency (RFTA), made it clear they would rather see the shed left in place, despite complaints from neighbors of the property.Snowmass Village Town Councilman Bob Purvis noted that the shed has been around a lot longer than most of the buildings in the area. He wondered aloud if the complaints were coming from people who recently developed their property in sight of the shed.He also cautioned his fellow directors who wanted to separate the shed from the rail cars and perhaps force it to be dismantled.Jonathan Fox-Rubin, a lifelong resident of the valley and representative to the transit authority from the town of Basalt, quickly lined up behind his colleague from Snowmass Village.”That building predates everything around it,” Fox-Rubin said of the shed. “And as far as I am concerned, the owner can paint the finger on it if he wants.”When he talked about “the finger,” Fox-Rubin was referring to a barn – owned by Fox-Rubin’s father, Patrick Fox – that has a giant middle finger painted on the roof, flipping off all who dare to look from the highway to the river just upvalley from Aspen Village.In fact, the complaints have come from the owners of two large homes built right at the edge of the Roaring Fork, just below the shed. They are less than 10 years old.Pitkin County must now decide how to reconcile its desire for affordable housing and the fact that the zoning in the area does not permit high-density affordable housing – for which the rail cars are being used.Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris reckoned the rail cars and the shed, which have been sitting alongside the Rio Grande & Denver Railroad tracks longer than the county has had land-use rules for the area, will be allowed to stay.Farris’ current stance is quite different than the one she took in 1998. According to a memo prepared for the holding authority directors, the county commissioners sent a letter that December ordering the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, owner of the right of way at that time, to stop renting the property to the rail car owners because they were in violation of the county land-use code. Farris was on that board of county commissioners.