Basalt councilman says he will move out of ‘bandit’ residence
A Basalt town councilman said Friday he is trying to move out of a residence that is currently considered a “bandit” unit by his homeowners’ association and the town government.
Herschel Ross said his landlady had agreed to apply to expand the allowed uses of a unit in the Riverwalk building at 227 Midland Ave. He only recently learned that she hadn’t acted to get a residential use approved, “even though we expressly said in the lease in June that was supposed to get cleaned up,” he said.
Ross was forced to look for a new office site after he was forced out of a building he owned across Midland Avenue. The holder of a note started a foreclosure action, according to the Eagle County public trustee’s website.
Ross said he gave the lender a deed in lieu of foreclosure in a settlement arranged through a contract. He was living and working in the building next to the Catholic church.
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When looking to relocate, he checked out a space owned by Kruse Family Holdings LLC in the Riverwalk building. At 2,038 square feet, it was more space than he needed, he said, but he talked to owner Diane Kruse about using a portion of the space with a separate entrance as a residence. Kruse approved the plan, he said, and they agreed she would apply with the homeowners’ association and town government to get the residential use approved. Riverwalk’s homeowners’ association rules only allow commercial spaces in ground-floor units. The town’s land-use approval also requires commercial uses.
Ross said he moved into the space in August and has used it as his legal residence. The Basalt Sanitation District, which has an office in the same building, discovered what it believed to be an unauthorized use of the space Ross was occupying. A district employee inspected the unit in early January with the consent of Kruse and Ross. The district’s board of directors took up the matter at its Jan. 13 meeting.
The sanitation district was tipped off by another tenant of the building that Ross appeared to be living in the unit, the board minutes said.
“Upon inspection and a discussion with Dr. Ross, (the inspector) determined that the commercial space was also being used as a residence by the dentist,” the minutes continued. Unauthorized residential use of a commercial space violates the district’s rules because additional tap fees are required. If the residential use were approved for a portion of the space, Kruse would owe another $2,940 in tap fees, the district said.
The landlady said she would be willing to pay the fee, but she told the board she was “not aware Herschel Ross is living in the commercial unit full time,” the minutes said.
Kruse couldn’t be reached for comment by The Aspen Times.
The sanitation district confirmed that Kruse approached the Riverwalk homeowners’ association as well as the town of Basalt in August to convert part of the space to residential use, but she never followed through with formal requests.
“Based on this information, D. Kruse appeared to be aware that utilizing the commercial unit for a residential purpose was not allowed and penalty is in order,” the sanitation district’s board minutes read. Kruse asked for six months to clear up the matter. She said she felt the homeowners’ association and town of Basalt would approve the residential use since affordable housing is in short supply. However, district personnel learned that the use would have to be approved by the entire membership of owners at Riverwalk, which homeowners’ association representatives deemed unlikely.
The board came to a mutually agreeable solution with Kruse, the minutes said. She paid a $500 penalty and was given 90 days to get residential use approved by the homeowners’ association and town.
Ross wasn’t part of the discussion at the sanitation district’s board meeting. He said the issue is between the district and Kruse. He said he intends to keep renting the space for his dentist practice, but he’s looking for a residence to rent.
“It was a temporary thing for me while I was looking,” he said.
When asked if it looked bad that a councilman was living in a bandit unit for seven months, Ross said he could possibly be criticized for not following up and “hounding the landlady about it.”
“I didn’t follow up on it,” he said. “You can say that looks bad.”
Ross is completing a four-year term and is seeking re-election in the April 6 election. Although he hasn’t lived in a legal residence for the past seven months, he said he believes he has met the commitment for establishing residency in Basalt. He hasn’t lived anywhere else for a number of years.
Town Manager Mike Scanlon said he became aware of the issue when the sanitation district informed the town there would be discussion about unauthorized use of the unit at its Jan. 13 meeting.
Scanlon said the town didn’t treat the bandit unit differently because a councilman was living in it. The town’s practice since Scanlon has been manager is to see if a property owner can resolve an unauthorized-use issue with the homeowners’ association. That’s how an unauthorized use was handled in Arbor Park, he said.
The town’s deadline for terminating residential use of the unit would likely coincide with the sanitation district’s deadline, unless some decision is imminent from the homeowners association, Scanlon said.
Ross said he intends to move out of the unit “before” there is any controversy.
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