Commissioners, housing board at odds over trailer park
Woody Creek Trailer Park residents who want to buy the land beneath their homes may be facing a stalemate over $35,000.The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority has owned the eight-acre trailer park since late 1998. But the land is under contract with the park’s homeowners association, which hopes to split the property into 58 lots that can be purchased by the residents.The deadlock is over a deed restriction that would cap what the homeowners could later sell their properties for.The housing authority board and the housing department staff agree that the lots should be designated Category 5 housing, meaning they could sell for no more than $406,000.However, when Pitkin County commissioners approved the subdivision Wednesday, they did so with the condition that the cap would be $441,000 – a Category 6 designation.It’s a difference of $35,000, and the ultimate decision rests with the housing authority. But the difference could impact the county’s approval of subdividing the land, and if the property isn’t subdivided, it can’t be sold to individual owners.Now the housing board must convene once more to decide if it agrees. Maureen Dobson, director of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, said the board will meet May 4. She said she didn’t want to guess what the decision would be.
“[Housing] staff’s recommendation was Category 5, and the purpose is to maintain the affordability of projects in our inventory,” she said.The project would go forward as a subdivision if the housing authority board decides to go along with the commissioners’ wishes. But if the housing board doesn’t, Dobson said, there will need to be another plan.”What happens is contingent on what the board decides to do,” she said. “We all have the same mission in trying to maintain affordability while working hard to maintain the interests and needs of the homeowners. We’re trying to find a balance.”Attorney Tim Whitsitt, who is representing the homeowners association, said it’s an “interesting question.””As I understand it, the commissioners don’t have the right to tell the housing authority that it has to change,” he said. “But the housing authority is an applicant with this in front of the Board of County Commissioners, and as [Commissioner] Dorothea Farris verbalized, if the authority wants to get subdivision approval, they ought to listen to what the commissioners have to say.”Whitsitt said if the housing authority disagrees with the commissioners, they’d be “calling the commissioners’ bluff” to not approve the subdivision. Then the housing authority would have to decide what to do with the property, Dobson said.”Whoever owns it has to have [planned unit development] approval,” she said. “That’s contingent on where you go next – you can’t sell individual lots without it.”
If the deal to sell the land to the homeowners association falls through, the housing authority would have to decide whether to continue to own the property and sell individual lots, she said. Either way, they need the land to be subdivided.Disagreement over categoriesCounty commissioners weren’t unanimous in their decision to encourage a $441,000 cap on lot sales in the trailer park.Commissioner Jack Hatfield was the sole dissenter of the proposed Category 6, saying he thinks the county is giving itself a black eye when it comes to the housing program.”I’m feeling that this has become more than people having a place to live, upgrading the living conditions and having a great neighborhood,” he said. “It’s become something to sell, make money and cash out.”The ongoing struggle to find an appropriate category for the mobile home park lots is split between the desire for owners to recover the costs in improving their units, and the responsibility for making sure the units are affordable for locals to buy in the future.Residents have been adamant about wanting to improve their homes but also recover their improvement costs when they sell their units. Housing officials, however, worry that without stringent caps, the improved homes will quickly become too pricey to be considered affordable housing.
“What goal do we have with housing? It’s not just for the current owner, but it’s for the future and the future and the future,” Hatfield said. “We’re losing site of what we’re doing – this is not affordable housing anymore.”Whitsitt told commissioners that Category 5 is not enough, and he thinks homeowners are unlikely to buy their lots if they don’t get the higher cap.”[With Category 5 some residents] will exceed in building costs what they can recover in selling their units,” he said. “Why not let everyone build at a reasonable level? You’re planning this thing for failure – you ought to set reasonable caps so that people can come out economically OK.”Approximately $2.8 million worth of improvements are already planned for the aging park, including replacing the park’s wastewater collection lines, building a 100,000-gallon tank on a hill for a pressurized water system and fire hydrants, and working on the park’s roads, electricity and cable systems.Already the park has replaced its wastewater treatment plant, using money out of its operating account, from rent the residents pay, Whitsitt said. All of the improvements from the park will be done with help from a loan, which will be repaid by residents’ rent.”In the end, all of the money is coming from homeowners’ pockets – every dime of it,” he said. “In the end, they’ll only be able to recover costs based on the deed restriction. They’re being pinched on both ends.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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