Aspen Village wants out of housing rules
Not even impassioned pleas from one of the fathers of growth management could coax a timid housing board last night to recommend growth management restrictions be lifted at Aspen Village.
Attorney Joe Edwards spent nearly 90 minutes arguing vigorously that county-imposed deed restrictions on all the lots at the 150-unit mobile home court should be lifted. Two board members even went so far as to call his arguments “convincing,” but apparently not convincing enough. The board tabled the request until its next meeting.
“I think it’s a cogent argument,” conceded board chairwoman Jackie Kasabach. “I just don’t know where the Board of County Commissioners was coming from in 1995, but they did feel that subdivision and affordable housing restrictions were necessary.”
Edwards, who as a county commissioner in the mid-1970s led the successful effort to place onerous restrictions on development in Pitkin County, has spent more than two years with Aspen Village residents building a case for removing the restrictions that come with a”Resident Occupied” classification. The county imposed the restrictions in 1995, in exchange for allowing residents to subdivide the trailer park.
That subdivision, which permitted residents to buy the land under their trailers, was supposed to be the final hurdle in a 12-year effort to turn the renters into homeowners. Instead, it has turned into a legal quagmire and financial black hole.
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“If any one of these homeowners loses her job in Pitkin County and tries to take a job in Basalt, you can evict her. You, the housing department, can force these people to sell their homes, even if they’ve lived there for 30 years,” Edwards said.
And 21-year trailer court resident Ellen Anderson told the board that she recently gave up a job offer in Basalt because of the restrictions.
Aspen Village homeowners are required to live in their trailer and earn at least 75 percent of their income by working in Pitkin County. They are also barred from owning any other property in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties. Other limits required under the Resident Occupied classification, such caps on resale prices and limits on personal assets, were waived.
Edwards said one big reason for lifting the restrictions is the fact the county didn’t put a nickel into converting the trailer court from a corporate-owned rental property into neighborhood of homeowners. The residents of Aspen Village arranged financing themselves to cover the $4.5 million needed to pay for their parcels.
The county’s only financial contribution was a $67,000 grant to cover the county’s own land-use application fees. But, Edwards noted, that was a critical moment in the process, because then-County Commissioner Bill Tuite said he couldn’t support the grant or an accelerated timeline for subdivision approval unless residents agreed to the Resident Occupied restriction on their units.
Aspen Village has long required trailers to be occupied by their owners, so the residents agreed, apparently misunderstanding the implications of the county’s then-fledgling Resident Occupied housing classification. Nine months later, when they realized that agreement meant deed restrictions, they paid back the loan with interest.
But it was too late to pull out of the deal. The mostly working-class residents of the trailer court had forked over more than $300,000 in earnest money, appraisals, surveys and attorneys fees, and the county wasn’t willing to give up on the restrictions.
“We were frightened, we were living on a month-to-month lease, and a lot of money had been invested at that point. We couldn’t pull out,” said Aspen Village resident Joe Nazzaro.
If the county planning department had been straight with the residents on the rules about subdivisions, Edwards said they would have sought a subdivision exemption, which applies to fully developed properties like Aspen Village.
Subdividing an existing neighborhood had no effect on the county’s overall growth or its infrastructure, because residents were simply buying the land under their homes and Aspen Village had its own roads, recreational facilities and water and sewer systems, he noted.
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After 14 years, a lengthy lawsuit by area residents and nearly $4 million in construction costs, a half-mile trail to two school campuses in the Castle Creek Valley was finally completed this week.