Locals losing homes to the wrecking ball | AspenTimes.com

Locals losing homes to the wrecking ball

John Colson

Four longtime local tenants are living in apprehension at the Roaring Fork Apartments on Durant Avenue these days, wondering when the wrecking ball will take their homes away.

Even the owner of the complex isn’t sure, although he said this week that he hopes it will be soon.

Meanwhile, another three-dozen or so residents of the same complex have moved out to face uncertain futures in Aspen’s hyper-tight housing market.

The saga of the Roaring Fork Apartments is just another example of the forces that are causing the downvalley flight of Aspen’s working class.

The complex, at the east end of Durant, is being slowly vacated as owner Frank Day gets ready to redevelop it into a combination of four luxury townhomes and a number of deed-restricted apartments.

According to resident Jim Wolf, an employee of Clark’s Market in Aspen who is still living in the studio he has occupied for nine years, the eviction notice had been expected for more than two years, after Day won permission for his redevelopment plans.

After two years of month-to-month leases, Wolf said, the word finally came on March 1 in the form of a 60-day notice.

Then, shortly before the deadline of May 5, Wolf and three others who had not yet vacated got word that the project had been stalled and they could stay – but only if they agreed that they would vacate with 30 days notice, instead of the 60-day notice they received originally.

Wolf said he had made plans to move downvalley, but decided to “hold out here for as long as I can” because it is more convenient for his job and he likes living in Aspen.

And so the complex, which has housed innumerable local workers for decades, sits nearly empty.

But at least some of the departed residents said they wouldn’t have stayed even if they could, despite the lure of the relatively low rents.

“Everybody knew it was coming,” said former resident Nancy Albert, an employee of First Resort Software. She now lives in a studio she refers to as “a dump,” for which she pays $800 a month.

“There’s no place to live in town, and I’ve got no car, and I travel all the time [for work],” she said.

Had she stayed on at Roaring Fork Apartments, though, she predicted, “it would have gotten worse. If you’re going to move in the spring, May is the time to do it.”

She said it took her two months to find a place that would accept her cat. She found it two days before she had to move out, and is subletting the place only until August, when she’ll be back on the market.

“The thing I find a little frustrating is … he [Day] is supposed to provide affordable housing,” she said. “We got no assistance from anybody, not the housing office or anybody.”

Albert and other former tenants have wondered why three-dozen inexpensive apartments are being lost from the local employee housing stock, to be replaced by four luxury townhomes and 14 apartments that undoubtedly will be more expensive than what is there now.

The reason is, that is all the city is requiring Day to provide in return for his development rights.

According to the city’s former planning director, Stan Clauson, Day should have been ordered to rebuild 18 affordable housing units, because the city’s land-use code calls for a 50 percent replacement ratio of employee units.

But because another former city planner, Leslie Lamont (now a Pitkin County commissioner), interpreted the city code as requiring only 12 replacement employee apartments, the city was forced to settle for a compromise or face a lawsuit by Day based on his “reliance” on Lamont’s advice. The city did, however, manage to require that the apartments be rented or sold at lower prices than Day originally proposed.

Day, reached at his Boulder home, said this week the present delay of his project is the city’s fault.

“The city of Aspen is moving at its usual warp-speed rates,” he said sarcastically. “I’m still plodding my way through the building-permit process.”

He said he expects to receive his building permit within “a matter of weeks” and begin demolition.

Asked if there is any possibility he might miss this building season altogether, he answered simply, “No.”

Then, after a pause, he added, “Well, I suppose there’s always a chance.”

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