County willing to discuss rules for Aspen Village
Aspen Village residents won their first battle in their four-year war of attrition against local affordable housing regulations.
Pitkin County agreed last night to negotiations that may allow homeowners there to get out from under some of the affordable housing restrictions imposed in 1996, when the trailer court was subdivided and the lots sold to its residents.
The 5-0 vote by the county commissioners was greeted with relief by many of the 40 or so working-class lot owners who showed up for yesterday’s meeting. “They could have shut us down – it’s encouraging that they didn’t,” said an Aspen Village resident as she left the meeting.
The commissioners appear ready to grant residents who lived in Aspen Village prior to subdivision the right to own other property in the Roaring Fork drainage that was purchased before 1996. It also appears the original homeowners will be allowed to retire in Aspen Village and pass the property to their heirs.
“What they’ve done is accepted the fact that mistakes were made on both sides and said they were willing to come back to the table and compromise,” said resident Roger Baillengeon.
What the commissioners seem unwilling to consider is the biggest point of contention for the homeowners – restrictions on whom the lots can be sold to. The current regulations require buyers to have resided in Pitkin County for at least three years and earn at least 75 percent of their income here.
“I’m not going to lift their affordable housing deed restrictions without having protections in place to make sure it stays a neighborhood,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper, who lives in the Smuggler Mobile Home Park in Aspen’s east end.
Clapper’s reluctance was shared by Commissioners Leslie Lamont and Dorothea Farris. “Owner-occupancy is the issue that I see here, and to me that means someone living and working in Pitkin County,” Lamont said.
Lamont expressed worries that the neighborhood would become a retirement community for out-of-county and out-of-state residents if the residency and income requirements were lifted.
“They close the door on working residents,” Farris said.
Aspen Village already has some of the lightest regulations in the affordable housing program. There are no price limits or income-category designations. Nor are there limits on annual appreciation, as there are throughout the rest of the affordable housing program.
The residents have long maintained the restrictions, no matter how limited, shouldn’t have been required in the first place, but their arguments fell on deaf ears until attorney Joe Edwards took the case. Edwards is the former county commissioner who helped create the growth-management system that set limits on development throughout much of the county.
His three-hour presentation began with the inception of Aspen Village in 1968, continued with a history lesson on the county’s zoning history and finished with a blow-by-blow account of the year leading up to the sale.
Edwards maintained that when his clients first proposed the purchase in spring 1995, there was no mention of affordable housing restrictions. In fact, it wasn’t until February 1995, in a memo from the county planning department to the Planning and Zoning Commission, that there was any mention at all of such restrictions. By then, he said, the closing date had already been extended once, the loan had been procured, and the pending property owners felt they had no choice but to agree to some restrictions.
“In that high-pressure situation, the residents said we’ll take resident-occupied designation if you lift the cap on appreciation. The county agreed. But the deal was closed under duress,” Edwards said.
“I appreciate your history and appreciate you telling me what people thought, but the four percent appreciation cap was the issue – the only issue I remember,” said Lamont.
Commissioner Mick Ireland, who was also on the board at the time the restrictions were imposed, challenged the homeowners’ contention that they paid free-market rates for their land, noting that the $4.5 million price tag was well below the $6 million appraised value for the 13-acre trailer court.
“I can only go along with the changes as long as they maintain the affordable housing, so people have the same opportunity you did,” Ireland said.
Edwards agreed to draft changes to the Aspen Village Homeowner’s Association cov-
enants and bring them back for discussion.
The commissioners may also see drafts that reflect the homeowners’ desire to lift restrictions on buyers at resale. “I think a middle-income retiree buying into Aspen Village would bring more to the community than a wealthy one on Red Mountain,” said homeowner’s association president Judy Hill.
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