Officials: North 40 criteria was clear
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Appointed and elected officials familiar with the North 40 and its original terms of approval say homeowners in the subdivision knew exactly what they were getting into when they purchased their lots.
And they should have known that building a home from scratch would cost a bundle in one of the priciest construction markets in the nation, officials say.
Those same officials also point out that the North 40 is one of the least regulated affordable housing programs in the county.
“Except for the appreciation cap, that is basically a free-market project,” said Marcia Goshorn, a member of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.
Goshorn, who emphasized that she was not speaking in an official capacity, said she was surprised by a story in Monday’s Aspen Times that indicated a number of North 40 residents think the county should lift the cap on how much their property can increase in value each year.
The North 40 was created in the late 1990s on a vacant lot owned by entrepreneur and rancher John McBride. He built the roads and extended utilities to his property immediately adjacent to the Airport Business Center.
Pitkin County approved the subdivision, with 72 lots and a soccer field, on the condition it be classified as “resident occupied” affordable housing, with a 4 percent cap on appreciation and a condition that the owners earn their living in the county. The county commissioners required McBride to sell 12 lots for $75,000 and imposed a $150,000 per lot average on the entire project.
“We would never have approved that many free-market units there,” said Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “And if we had, most of those people wouldn’t have have had access, because the lots would have been too expensive.”
The North 40 was exempted from other conditions that typically apply to affordable housing projects, as well. The North 40 is exempt from the lottery system of selecting buyers, the price cap of $478,000 for resident occupied units, the strictly enforced limit on the income and overall net worth of prospective buyers, and the rule barring owners of affordable housing from owning other housing – free market or affordable – in the valley.
“A couple of people have spent $800,000 to build their houses, and they’ll get their money back – if they can sell them for that much,” said Tim Semrau, president of the board of directors of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority.
Semrau said he would not support easing the rules at North 40, because they are already much more lenient than anywhere else in the affordable housing program.
The homeowners at the North 40 have not formally asked for any changes to the rules that govern ownership and sale of property in the subdivision, and homeowner association president Mark Uhlfelder said they don’t plan to anytime soon.
But Uhlfelder said he and some of the other residents at the North 40 believe the county should consider lifting the appreciation cap. He pointed out that for most people, their home is the biggest investment of their lives, except at the North 40 and other affordable housing developments where appreciation caps limit the amount people can earn on that investment.
But Goshorn pointed out residents of the North 40 are the only ones in the affordable housing program allowed to own property elsewhere in the valley. In fact, the Housing Authority investigated the legality of Uhlfelder’s recent purchase of several condominiums at the ABC, and found no violation because of the special rules in effect at the North 40.
Goshorn also questioned why Uhlfelder would raise issue with the price caps in light of the fact he sold his house on Cemetery Lane in order to move into North 40.
@ATD Sub heds:Road fee exemption unlikely
@ATD body copy: North 40 resident Steve Marolt pointed out a discrepancy in the way fees are being charged at the subdivision, with somewhat better reception among decision makers, however.
Marolt is required to pay several thousand dollars for a road impact fee that many of his neighbors did not have to pay.
The county’s road impact fee went into effect in June 2000, as part of a package of laws adopted at the end of a six-month moratorium on development. The county began applying the fee when it was adopted, except on properties that were still under the so-called vesting period.
The term “vesting period” refers to a specific amount of time during which the county cannot change the terms of approval for a project, even if it radically changes the rules for everyone else. Once the vesting period ends, any new rules adopted by the county apply.
The North 40’s vesting period expired in spring 2001, and Marolt was one of the first people in the neighborhood required to pay the road impact fee. He has publicly questioned the fairness of making some North 40 residents pay the fee, which in his case is $4,200, while exempting others.
“I can understand why someone would like to have their fees waived, but it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible on our part to do so,” Ireland said.
Ireland received an e-mail from someone building a home in the midvalley who said she expects to be exempted from the road impact fee if Marolt is. “That’s how the county gets into financial trouble – it grants exemptions for everything,” he said.
Marolt told the Times that he’s probably going to pay the fee so he can officially move into his new house.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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