Compromise reached on Aspen Village rules
The Pitkin County commissioners have endorsed major changes to rules governing housing at Aspen Village.
By a 5-0 vote, the commissioners agreed some housing regulations had been inappropriately applied at Aspen Village and others might need to be rewritten for the entire affordable housing system.
Last night’s exchange was remarkably civil compared to past meetings between the residents, their attorney and the commissioners, which were adjourned with harsh words and wounded egos.
The turnaround last night began with Aspen Village Homeowners Association president Judy Hill thanking county commissioner Mick Ireland for his role in reaching a compromise. And it ended with Commissioner Leslie Lamont thanking the residents for all the hard work and thought they put into the agreement.
“Mick deserves credit for challenging us to stop blaming people and start taking responsibility for the situation we’re in,” Hill said.
The commissioners agreed to allow residents of the mobile home park to work anywhere in the valley, not just in Pitkin County as the original regulations required.
“Because Aspen Village didn’t take any money from county’s housing fund to pay for the land originally, I have no problem with the idea that they owe Pitkin County and have to work here,” said county commissioner Leslie Lamont.
They also relaxed restrictions governing the sale of the lots. Instead of waiting four years to purchase a home at Aspen Village – a rule that applies throughout the affordable housing system – newcomers can qualify after only a year of residency. The reason behind that change dates back to 1996, when the county helped the residents purchase the land under their trailers.
Aspen Village began life as a trailer court in 1967, growing to about 150 units by the early 1990s. More than one attempt by the residents to purchase the land fell apart until 1995, when the opportunity rose again.
The county agreed to help the residents by promising to a speedy subdivision of the land. That deal helped the residents secure a $5 million loan, but in exchange they agreed to some affordable housing regulations.
Unlike other neighborhoods in the affordable housing program, the county did not set limits on appreciation of the land (lots that were bought for $40,000 in 1996 are now selling for about $150,000). But to ensure that the mobile homes continue to be occupied by people who work here, the county imposed limits on who can purchase the trailers. Prospective buyers needed to earn most of their income in Pitkin County and work a minimum of 1,500 hours per year.
Last winter, the Aspen Village Homeowners Association showed up in front of the planning and zoning commission with attorney Joe Edwards insisting that they had been duped by the county in 1996. He argued that the homeowners should be released from all affordable housing regulations.
That meeting ended with a recommendation for no changes to the agreement and one planning commissioner saying he thought the regulations should be tightened.
The hostility spilled over into a March 13 meeting with the county commissioners, who were threatened and bullied by several angry residents. But Ireland’s challenge rang loudest for Hill. She and several other Aspen Village residents began working with the planning staff and meeting with the county commissioners to work out the compromise reached last night.
Attorney Edwards found that the original county resolution accepting the agreement with Aspen Village was based on the 1995 affordable housing regulations, which are not as stringent as current rules.
When Commissioner Patti Clapper pointed out that the housing regulations change from time to time, Edwards said, “What kind agreement is that?” He noted that the county had just recently agreed to a permanent set of regulations at the North Forty project.
Edwards’ point prevailed. The 1995 regulations don’t require any length of residency before someone qualifies to purchase an affordable housing unit, but the residents agreed to a one-year requirement.
The county also agreed to scale back the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority’s ability to exercise a right of first refusal on a sale. That right gives the housing authority the right to step in and purchase a lot that is already under contract for sale at the price agreed to by the seller and buyer.
But the commissioners weren’t ready give up the 1 percent fee that is tagged onto sales of affordable housing units. Aspen Village asked to be relieved of the charge, which goes to the housing office, but the commissioners said they would leave it in place for a year while an audit of housing authority expenditures relating to the neighborhood is conducted.
“We can always lower the fee if it’s too high,” Ireland said.
“I think there’s some good stuff that came out of this that we can use as a template for dealing with other homeowners associations, like at Lazy Glen, that are coming into the affordable housing program,” Lamont said.
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