Developer picks up half of North 40 tap fees
Local developer and rancher John McBride agreed Monday to cover several hundred-thousand dollars worth of water and sewer hookup fees for all lot owners at his affordable housing development near the airport.
McBride’s promise, which is expected to cost his development company more than $400,000, came on the heals of a complaint by Matt Neal, one of 40 or so lot owners in the North 40 project.
Neal alleged last week that McBride was reneging on his previous agreement to pay half of the hookup fees, otherwise known as tap fees, for each and every lot owner.
The North 40, currently under development next to the Aspen Airport Business Center, is one of the few privately developed affordable housing projects to be built in the upper valley in recent years. Its 60 lots for single-family homes and dozen townhomes have some restrictions on price and on who can buy them.
One of Pitkin County’s conditions for approval of North 40 was that McBride place half the estimated cost of hooking the entire project into the sewer and water systems into escrow before any lots were sold. When lot owners then applied for building permits, they would pay for half of the hookup fees, which in total can run between $15,000 and $20,000 for a three-bedroom house.
The county commissioners capped prices at $75,000 for a dozen lots and required that the average price of the remaining 48 be no more than $150,000. They added the tap fee condition late in the approval process in an effort to keep the development affordable for middle-class locals.
At a special meeting Monday afternoon, McBride told the commissioners he was under the impression he could require residents to pay the full tap fees as long as the total cost of the lots remained under the price caps.
“Is the $400,000 there as a deposit to secure payment in full by the lot owners? Or is it one-half of the fee for each lot to be paid for by the developer?” McBride asked at the beginning of the discussion.
He pointed out that the lots were selling for significantly less than the limits set by the commissioners. So, he began adding the tap fees as an addendum to the sales contract. Neal was the first of 40 or so people who have purchased the lots to object.
McBride said he could simply have buried his share of the tap fees into the purchase price, but opted against that idea because the fees are different with each house. (Tap fees into the water system can vary widely, depending on how many sinks, toilets, showers and hose spigots are included in the house.)
“I just didn’t think that was the right way to do it,” he said.
But rather than get into a knock-down, drag-out fight over who pays the fees, McBride said he’d cover half the tap fee for every lot.
“We’ve talked to enough people to know there is a lot of confusion out there. We’ll just bite, we’ll just eat it, even though we just blew about a half-million we thought we were entitled to,” McBride said.
McBride did ask the commissioners to cap his obligation, however.
Jamie Knowlton, the North 40 project manager, explained that the escrow amount n See North 40 on page 13-A
n continued from page 3-A
was based on the typical cost of a hookup for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house. He asked that commissioners limit McBride’s obligation to the amount that has already been set aside. The lot owner should pay for additional hookup costs if he or she wants a more extravagant water system, Knowlton argued.
“Do we really need to pay half the tap fees for someone who is building a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house?” he asked.
Only half jokingly, McBride added, “If you don’t help us here, we’re not going to approve anything with more than one sink and one toilet.”
Most of the 15 or so lot owners present at the meeting agreed to the idea of limiting McBride’s obligation, though one insisted McBride be held to the original condition – pay for half of everyone’s tap fees regardless of what they build.
But the county commissioners present – Patti Clapper, Mick Ireland and Leslie Lamont – said they were open to the idea of limiting the amount McBride pays because of his willingness to cover so much of people’s tap fees and the effect the fees have in promoting conservation. They declined to make a decision Monday.
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