Pitkin County: Thumbs down on regional housing authority

Pitkin County commissioners declined Tuesday to join a proposed Roaring Fork Valley regional housing authority and said their focus needs to be on the local agency’s issues.

The five county board members agreed that more affordable housing is needed up and down the valley and didn’t rule out possibly participating in future projects with the proposed authority if it comes to fruition.

However, the main stumbling block for the five commissioners was that the proposed regional body would have the power to approve affordable-housing developments in Pitkin County that don’t conform to the county’s land-use code or affordable-housing mitigation rules.

“The (regional) housing authority board can override the jurisdiction with land-use authority,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock told the board.

Commissioner Patti Clapper cited differences in land-use philosophies in play in Eagle County’s recent decision to approve the Tree Farm project in El Jebel.

“We need to be very careful losing that kind of control,” Clapper said.

Commissioner Rachel Richards also brought up the June approval of the Tree Farm, which includes 340 residences and almost 135,000 square feet of commercial space. The project’s affordable-housing plan has been criticized by some as being inadequate.

“The Tree Farm sealed the deal for me,” Richards said. “They’re developing our midvalley as if it was Edwards.”

She said the project doesn’t provide enough affordable housing considering the amount of retail space.

If Pitkin County joined the regional housing authority, it could find itself paying for 60 percent of the project that is governed by Eagle County or Garfield County land-use regulations, Richards said. Further, affordable-housing mitigation rules for development in those counties are not the same, she said.

“I’m more concerned with how to fix (the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority) now than establishing a regional housing authority,” Richards said. “We could partner with a regional housing authority, but I don’t want to be part of it.”

She pointed out that APCHA doesn’t have a revenue source at the moment that funds its entire operation. The city funds the agency through a real estate transfer tax and a portion of sales tax proceeds, while the county contributes funding from its general fund.

Richards suggested that perhaps it’s time for APCHA to ask voters for a property tax mill levy to fund the agency.

Commissioner Steve Child suggested a completely different scenario regarding APCHA.

“I don’t know if APCHA can be fixed without us leaving it and we do our own thing outside the city limits,” he said. “I prefer to fix APCHA.”

Attorney David Myler and land-use planner Bill Lamont have been pitching the regional housing authority up and down the valley for months. The city of Aspen and Garfield County also have declined to participate in the project.