Housing officials take umbrage at criticism of redevelopment
Two members of the local housing board have taken exception to criticism from elected officials over plans to demolish two venerable apartment buildings in Aspen and replace them with a mix of luxury condominiums and new affordable housing.Sheri Sanzone, chairwoman of the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board, along with board member Ron Erickson, said Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper was off base when she made recent remarks about plans for the publicly owned Smuggler Mountain Apartments and the privately owned Park Avenue Apartments.”They had plenty of opportunity to give input,” declared Erickson, who called The Aspen Times to protest a story in the Aug. 18 edition outlining Clapper’s concerns.Sanzone said the housing board had directed Housing Director Tom McCabe to inform City Manager Steve Barwick and County Manager Hilary Smith of the deal, in which the two properties are scheduled to be torn down and replaced, under an agreement between APCHA and Primepoint LLC of Minnesota.Citing a public hearing and a press release about the deal, both in June, she said, “We tried.”One of the buildings, the 11-unit Smuggler Mountain Apartments, is owned by the housing authority, which obtained the building as housing mitigation from a developer in the 1990s. The other, the 14-unit Park Avenue Apartments, is a 1960s-era, free-market property owned by local landlord John Werning and partners.Primepoint is poised to buy Park Avenue Apartments, which have been on the market for more than $6 million, as well as take possession of Smuggler Mountain, in return for a commitment to build 22 affordable housing units on the property along with 15 free-market townhouses or condos.The deal has the enthusiastic blessing of the housing board members, who have said the project will provide new affordable housing inventory without costing local governments any money.Clapper, however, said earlier this month that she had learned of the details behind the deal only recently. She said at a work session that she was concerned that the agreement calls for Primepoint to pay $750,000 to the housing office as a “fee” in return for receipt of Smuggler Mountain Apartments., which Clapper said was not enough money compared to the profits Primepoint stands to make.Sanzone agreed that, taken out of the housing authority’s negotiated context, the $750,000 “sounds ridiculous … for a piece of property in Aspen, Colorado.”But, she continued, “that’s on top of getting our units replaced at no cost to the housing authority.”Housing officials have maintained that the deal is yielding a slightly higher number of deed-restricted, Category 2, 3 or 4 units than would be possible if the housing office rebuilt Smuggler Mountain on its own and Park Avenue were redeveloped as a private project.In that scenario, Salzone said, the housing office would likely replace the existing 11 units with the same number, at a cost of several million dollars that the authority currently does not have, and the Park Avenue housing mitigation requirement would result in only seven (under the city’s 50-percent replacement regulation), for a total of 18, as compared to 22 under the agreement between Primepoint and the APCHA.And, Erickson said, the developers will put up a performance bond guaranteeing that the affordable housing will be built first and will be completed, regardless of the fate of the free-market portion of the project.”I think that’s a pretty good deal,” he said.Salzone said the housing office will be working on a plan to help the residents of Smuggler Mountain Apartments., at least, find replacement housing if they cannot afford to move back into the for-sale units that Primepoint will build.As for the Park Avenue residents, she said, the housing office has no formal obligation to help them, but she is hopeful that they will be included in whatever the housing authority comes up with as a replacement housing program. She said that could come in the form of assistance in finding rental housing, or perhaps help in coming up with a downpayment on the mortgage on a for-sale unit. The $750,000, both she and Erickson said, can be used for such purposes.Plus, they both said, the housing authority and Primepoint both have the right to back out of the deal if it begins to look as though it is not meeting the needs of one party or the other.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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