Housing Authority pursues action against condo owner | AspenTimes.com

Housing Authority pursues action against condo owner

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The owner of an Aspen affordable housing unit is disputing allegations by local housing officials that she no longer lives and works in Pitkin County and no longer qualifies to own the condo.

It appears the case will result in a full-blown hearing before the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. It would be the first enforcement action to reach the formal hearing stage since 1996.

After about a year of investigation, the housing office staff has concluded Cathleen Tripodi has violated the Housing Authority’s employment and residency requirements. The staff has recommended the housing board require Tripodi to sell her Marthinsson-Nostdahl condo.

According to a memo from staffers to the board, it appears Tripodi is employed by the U.S. Department of Energy and is working out of its Washington offices.

The housing board met with Tripodi’s attorney, Dave Myler, last week. He indicated his client wishes to appeal her case to the board.

A hearing is expected to take place in December, though several board members appeared reluctant to take that step.

“This should not be a free-for-all. This should be conducted in a limited manner,” said board member Shellie Roy, a Pitkin County commissioner. “I don’t want to put this board through an ugly hearing.”

Both Roy and board member David Guthrie served previously with Tripodi on the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission, Roy confirmed.

Board member Jamie Knowlton asked if the dispute could be resolved through mediation. “There are other ways of solving problems without going through a full-blown hearing,” he said.

But the board’s attorney, Tom Smith, said the appeal hearing would serve essentially the same purpose as a board-mediated solution.

Board member Marcia Goshorn called for a hearing.

“If we are to back down without a full hearing, there is no reason to have the requalification process,” she said.

This year, the housing office began requalifying all owners of deed-restricted housing to make sure they still comply with the housing program’s residency and employment requirements, among other rules.

The Housing Authority’s guidelines define a full-time employee, who qualifies to own deed-restricted housing, as an individual who works at least 1,500 hours in a calendar year in Pitkin County. In addition, the individual must reside in the unit at least nine months out of the year.

“We feel that we comply with the requirements,” Myler said.

Apparently also at issue in Tripodi’s case is whether her job with the Department of Energy, based in Maryland, qualifies her as a county employee even if she is working here.

“As you and I discussed, [Housing Authority] guidelines require that owners of affordable housing be working in Pitkin County for a Pitkin County employer,” Housing Director Maureen Dobson wrote in an August letter to Tripodi.

“There doesn’t appear to be a regulation that you be employed by a certain type of employer ? only that you’re living and working in Pitkin County,” countered Myler.

The Housing Authority guidelines, posted on its Web site, read: “If an employer is not physically based in Pitkin County, an employee must be able to verify that they work in Pitkin County a minimum of 1,500 hours per calendar year.”

Evidence collected by the housing office, however, indicates Tripodi has not met that minimum, according to Dobson.

“Our job is to collect the facts. Other people have a right to dispute our interpretation,” Dobson said. “She’s challenging our interpretation, and she has a right to challenge it.”

Tripodi could not be reached for comment.

Aspen Times reporter Brent Gardner-Smith contributed to this report.

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