Aspen School District to Snowmass: No deal
October 8, 2009
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The Aspen School Board said Wednesday it would not agree to a permanent deed restriction on its proposed 15-unit housing project, as requested by the Snowmass Village Town Council, and instead would utilize its rights through a state statute in order to gain approval for the development.
Elected officials in Snowmass Village responded by instructing the town’s attorney, John Dresser, to retain some outside legal advice and “pursue this item in court if necessary.”
In a letter delivered Wednesday afternoon to Mayor Bill Boineau, the board and Superintendent Diana Sirko explained their reasoning for not agreeing to council’s request: “It is imperative that we have the flexibility to use this housing to address the needs of our employees as they may change over the years, and that we manage our assets in compliance with our fiduciary duty to the taxpayers funding these bonds, who are not just taxpayers of Snowmass Village but of the District at large.”
Council members replied that if the intent is really to supply housing to teachers and staff, then the deed restriction should be a non-issue.
“I’m befuddled. If this is what they want, why won’t they accept a deed restriction on employee housing?” asked Town Councilman John Wilkinson.
His colleague, Reed Lewis, appealed to the public who may have been watching a televised broadcast of the meeting, which was initially held to discuss the town’s 2010 budget but which accommodated the school housing issue as well.
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“Let [the district] know how you feel about them ramrodding their project,” Lewis said. “I’m really disappointed in the way this has been handled by those elected to the board of education.”
Councilman Arnie Mordkin seemed particularly bothered by a line in the board’s letter to Boineau, one that spoke of how the deed restriction would “significantly restrict the use of the property by the District and the use by any subsequent transferee.”
To which Mordkin replied, “The mask is off the demon. [Selling or trading the housing] is exactly what they want to do.”
While school districts in the state may use a statutory process, C.R.S. 22-32-124, to develop “schools, necessary buildings and structures” without submitting to a municipality’s full review process, the Aspen district consented to enter into an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with Snowmass Village whereby the town would have some limited review authority over the project.
The normal three-step process can take months, even years, to complete. The district, meanwhile, had hoped to have approvals in hand by early November, about one month after the first review.
Some opposition by neighbors as well as concern over potential traffic impacts to Owl Creek Road had made elected officials wary of the accelerated process. But until Monday, they seemed willing to work within the limits of an IGA. By the same token, the district had demonstrated intent to be neighborly by sharing details of the project with town staffers, rather than immediately resorting to the state statute.
“Our intent has always been to work closely with the town and neighboring properties to produce a high-quality project that Snowmass Village and the District could take pride in,” the school board letter states. School district board members made similar comments in a public meeting earlier this week.
However, it was during that Oct. 5 meeting with elected officials when it became clear that neither side was willing to budge on the deed-restriction issue. The IGA was not signed, and the process temporarily stalled. The school board met Tuesday on the issue, during which time the response to the town was drafted.
There are some in the town who believe that the district violated procedural issues in the statute by not consulting with the Snowmass Village Planning Commission prior to acquisition of the Owl Creek Road property. Town Manager Russ Forrest suggested that may be one of the issues that an outside counsel to the town will look into.
In fact, when land-use planner Julie Ann Woods, who is representing the schools, submitted an application to the Planning Commission late Wednesday, commission chair Bob Purvis noted that the property in question “has been acquired before your coming before this body.”
Now, it’s looking more likely that courts will ultimately decide the outcome of this proposed Snowmass Village “teacherage.”