More North 40 residents voice resentment about fees
Development fees, and to whom they apply, have generated some resentment in the North 40 neighborhood.Steve Marolt, who owns an accounting firm in Aspen with two brothers, estimates the fees he’s paid to the county and city to build a 3,300-square-foot home at the North 40 at around $30,000. That equates to an additional $200 a month on a 30-year mortgage.”I’m typical – I’m not a trust funder, I’ve never received a dime of inheritance,” Marolt said. “I come to work every day and contribute to the community. All these fees come out of my pocket.”Mark Uhlfelder of the North 40 homeowners association pointed out that free marketers are able to recoup building and utility hook-up fees when they resell their homes in the highly inflationary property market, while North 40 residents live with a government-imposed cap of 4 percent on the amount their homes can increase in value each year.Uhlfelder said he and many of his neighbors feel they are treated unfairly, living under strict affordable housing rules while having to cover the same costs as people who can afford to build a home in one of Aspen’s ritzy neighborhoods.The North 40 is one of Pitkin County’s first large-scale attempts to team up with the private sector to create affordable housing. The private sector in this case was developer John McBride, who is best known for building the Airport Business Center.The North 40 is located between the business center and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus barn, across the highway from the airport. There are lots for 72 homes, a soccer field and the new Colorado Mountain College building on the property.When it was approved, the county commissioners envisioned a project that gave an “in” for locals who wanted to build their own homes. The idea was simple: The county relaxes its rules, McBride provides the roads and utility hook-ups, homeowners build their dream homes.The neighborhood was classified as “resident occupied” under the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines, meaning those living there have to derive most of their income from work performed in Pitkin County. The county commissioners placed a 4 percent cap on annual appreciation, and they required McBride to sell 10 lots for $75,000, about half the going rate of the other lots.County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said when the approval was initially granted in 1998, she and other commissioners envisioned small houses built with a combination of hard-earned savings and “sweat equity.” The homeowner would put much of his own time and skill into building a starter home and then build out later as needed.”I think John [McBride] is as surprised as I am with the size of the houses out there – a lot of them are maxed out,” Farris said. “The houses out there are much bigger than I expected.”Many of the homes exceed 3,000 square feet, which makes them larger than the national average of 2,500 square feet, but much smaller than most new homes and remodels in Aspen.Both Uhlfelder and Marolt say the real beneficiary at the North 40 is McBride, who was able to sell 72 lots from $75,000 to about $180,000 apiece and turn a lot with limited value into one that grossed several million dollars. But they don’t begrudge McBride – they say he has every right to turn a profit on his land.They do begrudge the county, however. They say they are being treated differently than most home builders, because they live with the price cap but pay the same fees and construction costs as free-market developers.”Is this really affordable housing?” Uhlfelder asked. “The question is, what has the county done for us? The perception of a lot of people out there is the answer is ‘nothing.'”The price cap is unjustified, he said, because the commissioners really did little more for the homeowners at North 40 than they have for countless property owners seeking a variance from the county’s land-use rules.”I’m not sure what they did here was anything more than they would have done for a rich landowner who wants a variance for an additional 500 square feet,” Uhlfelder said.He wondered why he and his neighbors shouldn’t get what they can for their houses when they are ready to sell, especially in light of the fact that many of the homes at North 40 have cost in excess of $500,000 to build.Farris said the neighborhood would not even exist but for the county’s willingness to relax the rules, and it’s been a long time since a subdivision such as the North 40 was approved by Pitkin County.North 40 residents are required to pay the same fees as their wealthy neighbors on Red Mountain because they use the same services, Farris explained.”They gave up realizing a big profit in turn for having a place they can afford to live in close to Aspen,” she said.McBride has said more than once that the price cap was part of the deal when residents of the North 40 bought their lots, and he doesn’t think it should be lifted.Marolt said he would feel better about the price cap if the county and city were willing to waive all the fees it charges for construction, road mitigation, and the biggest of all – city water.His idea is similar to one the commissioners had when they approved the North 40 in 1998, it just goes one step further:-upzone the property to allow a tight-knit neighborhood;-allow the original developer, McBride in the case of the North 40, to recoup a fair profit, but keep a lid on how much he can charge for each lot;-waive utility, mitigation and building permit fees for qualified builders;-set a cap on annual appreciation of the land and limit ownership to working locals.That would save him roughly $72,000 over the life of his 30-year mortgage – or $200 a month.”Two hundred a month is a car payment, an IRA contribution or a college fund,” Marolt said. “It’s a lot of money.”
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