County dismayed with city, but still agrees to water pact
The Stillwater affordable housing project moved a step forward Wednesday, when the Pitkin County commissioners signed off on a water service agreement with the city of Aspen.
The commissioners were unanimous in their approval, in spite of the pending legal action from wealthy neighbors and the commissioners’ own objections over an annexation provision that is included in the water agreement.
“I don’t want to delay this project any further,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland. “But I am responsive to [Shellie Roy’s] suggestion that we discuss the question of annexation at our next joint meeting with the city.”
Lee Novak, the housing authority planner who is leading the Stillwater application through the approval process, said plans still call for a 17-unit development. Townhomes will be located in several buildings scattered around the county’s 4.17-acre parcel in the Stillwater subdivision. Stillwater is located on the south side of Highway 82, across from the Knollwood and Mountain Valley neighborhoods.
“The way it’s looking now, we’ll have final approval in mid-February,” said Novak. “To get construction going this summer, we’ll really need to move quickly.”
Novak’s comments motivated commissioners Shellie Roy, Patti Clapper and Jack Hatfield to vote in favor of the water agreement, despite their reservation about the section on annexation.
The water agreement for Stillwater, annexation language and all, is pretty much the same as every other water service agreement between the city and the county, Novak said.
It requires the county to install the lines that connect the project from the nearest city water main. And it requires the city to provide water to the residents of Stillwater, even though they’ll be living outside the city limits.
For Clapper, Hatfield and Roy, the problem was with the city’s ability to annex Stillwater. The second-to-last provision of the 13-page agreement is titled “ANNEXATION.”
It reads: “Upon request of the City, and at its sole discretion, County or its successors in interest, shall petition and/or consent to the annexation of the Project or the Subject Property, or those portions thereof as deemed appropriate by the City, to the City of Aspen at such time as determined by the City.”
Translation: The water service agreement gives the city the power to annex some or all of the Stillwater affordable housing project whenever it wants.
“I’m not comfortable with this provision,” Hatfield said. He initially wanted to postpone final approval until the commissioners had a chance to talk about it with the City Council, but backed off after Novak and Ireland said the agreement needed to be approved as soon as possible.
“I would like to have a discussion with the council about this anyway, not about their water policy, but about their annexation policy,” he said.
Clapper said she’s been somewhat dismayed with the city of Aspen’s endless stream of annexation over the years. In the last 10 or so years, the city has expanded its boundaries to include the Cozy Point Ranch at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road, the base area at Aspen Highlands, property surrounding the airport, Burlingame, and the private golf course that is used exclusively by members of the Maroon Creek Club and their guests.
The city attorney could not be reached for comment before this story went to press.
County attorney John Ely told the commissioners the annexation agreement is a boiler plate provision of the water service agreements that extend service outside the city limits. Stillwater is about a quarter-mile east of the city limit.
The water service agreement gives the city the power to annex some or all of the Stillwater affordable housing project whenever it wants.
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