District, employees battle over housing | AspenTimes.com

District, employees battle over housing

Eben Harrell

A conflict has erupted between the Aspen School District and four high-level district employees over the district’s affordable housing units. The employees, who say they were misled about the conditions of ownership when they purchased deed-restricted houses through the district five years ago, have threatened legal action in an effort to hold on to their homes.In the late 1990s, six family-size affordable housing units were designated for Aspen School District employees in the Moore subdivision, a property adjacent to the Aspen schools campus off Maroon Creek Road. Officials said the houses would help the district recruit and retain employees who might otherwise struggle to find housing in Aspen.In January 2000, the city passed an ordinance stating that district employees who own the units must sell their property back to the school district within one year of leaving the schools, unless they kept their position for more than 10 years after they purchased the unit.But the district employees say they were specifically informed by former Superintendent Tom Farrell that the units belonged to them, no matter how long they stayed in the district. Farrell left the district two years ago.The miscommunication over housing has come to a head because Aspen High School Principal Kendall Evans has planned to retire next year and stay on with his family at home. Three other homeowners who might retire before they reach 10 years after their purchase also say they were given assurances by their former boss that the houses were theirs for good – assistant high school principal Charlie Anastas and high school teachers Dave Conarroe and Andy Popinchalk”Seven months ago when I made this major decision in my life, I had no reason to think that my house was something I needed to consider. I did not see the city ordinance until 10 days ago,” Evans said at a public board meeting on Monday.”When we bought into this, [the ordinance] wasn’t in effect and we weren’t told that it might happen. There was nothing in my closing about this. It seems like my lawyers are going to have to get involved,” Conarroe said.District board member Fred Peirce said the regulations governing the Moore subdivision are city law and the ordinance was passed after a lengthy public hearing process.”It’s a city ordinance, just like any ordinance reflecting property owners’ use of their property,” he said. “It’s your responsibility to know the city’s ordinances as they impact your property.”Board member Jon Seigle said the employees confusion stemmed from misrepresentations by Farrell, who gave verbal assurances to the employees.”He was telling you something very different than what he was telling us. It was not the school board’s fault. This just peels back another layer of the facade. As a board we’re coming to find out that things were not as they appeared. It’s very disturbing to me,” Seigle said.Peirce added that because the regulations are city law, the employees have little recourse through the school board. “I think it’s pretty clear where we stand on this,” he said.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com

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