Officials: Aspen Intercept Lot now resident-free

About a dozen people who had been living at the Intercept Lot are now gone after Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo spent about three weeks gently dislodging them from the oft-used transit center, officials said.

However, former residents of the park-and-ride lot at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road will not be left to fend for themselves, as county officials soon plan to announce a partnership that will provide shelter for area homeless people, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said Tuesday.

“I’m hoping that next week we can talk about other options for homeless people,” he said. “We didn’t want to roust folks without an alternative.”

The Intercept Lot is owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation but is leased by the city of Aspen. It is located in Pitkin County, though, so law enforcement falls to the Sheriff’s Office. Cars are allowed to park at the transit hub for no more than 24 hours.

For years, DiSalvo and his deputies have tolerated a small group of people who live in cars and RVs at the Intercept Lot, partially out of compassion for the homeless and partly because the county doesn’t have an ordinance prohibiting sleeping in a car by the side of the road or in a parking lot in unincorporated areas of the county, the sheriff has said.

But as more people have discovered the “affordable housing” situation at the lot, deputies have had to deal with more late-night problems, while complaints from transit users increased. Those included parents leery of dropping their kids off at the lot for the quick bus ride into Aspen, neighbors who live above the lot unhappy about the impromptu community and complaints about panhandling, officials said.

In addition, deputies have received reports of a campfire at the lot as well as possible dumping of “blackwater” from RVs, DiSalvo said.

One particular incident in March involving a longtime Intercept Lot denizen who allegedly threatened two other men living at the lot with a hatchet seemed to bring the issue to a head. That’s when Mitch Osur, the city of Aspen’s parking director, told a meeting of elected officials from the upper Roaring Fork Valley that something had to be done.

At the time, Osur outlined a plan to “roust” the residents by threatening to tow their vehicles within 48 hours. DiSalvo, however, was not supportive of that approach and said he preferred to start a dialogue instead.

So last month, DiSalvo said he went out the Intercept Lot about eight times in a three-week period both in his official vehicle and on his bike to talk to the residents. He also said he asked his deputies to stop by the lot at night to warn people staying there that “the end is near.”

“We told them the leaseholder doesn’t want them there,” DiSalvo said. “We tried to be as understanding of people’s situations as possible.”

DiSalvo said he saw no more than three RVs, a car camper and a tow-behind camper during his day visits, though he acknowledged that most people who live at the lot leave during the day for jobs or other reasons. Osur said his officers saw about a dozen RVs at the lot three weeks ago.

“There were a lot of people living out there for free as far as I was concerned,” Osur said.

DiSalvo said the residents were grateful for his approach.

“They were totally understanding,” he said. “They appreciated the compassion we’ve shown.”

All who were living at the Intercept Lot have left at this point, according to DiSalvo and Osur. Now, parking officers will write a $50 ticket for vehicles left at the lot for more than 24 hours and affix a green tag to the car, Osur said. Vehicles left for more than 72 hours will be towed, he said. Sheriff’s deputies will continue to provide law enforcement services at the lot, Peacock said.

“We’re not trying to be mean,” Osur said, noting that the $15 per tow the department receives is not enough to cover employee time. “There’s no benefit in towing someone’s vehicle.”

Pitkin County’s efforts to identify alternatives for homeless people began at the Elected Officials Transportation Committee meeting in March, when Osur announced his plan, Peacock said. At the time, elected officials like Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper wondered where the Intercept Lot residents would go if kicked out.

Aspen’s overnight homeless shelter operates only during the winter months. Peacock said Tuesday he’s waiting to finalize partnerships with other upper valley agencies that will provide shelter for homeless people.

“I hope to be able to talk about it in the next week or so,” he said.

The Intercept Lot is a vital transit hub for the Upper Roaring Fork Valley. Visitors, workers and others can park their cars at the lot for free and take a free bus into Aspen or Snowmass Village from the lot. Rides back to the lot are free as well, though buses that go beyond the lot and farther down valley have a cost attached.