Richards lashes out as Aspen is forced to strike deal for housing
A Colorado Supreme Court ruling that has changed the rules for some privately owned employee housing has forced Aspen to renegotiate with the owner of three free-market lots.
The property owner’s apparent unwillingness to build three rental units according to the original terms of the development approval sparked some sharp words Monday from Mayor Rachel Richards, but the City Council is now seeking a compromise.
The council, after meeting in a closed session, directed City Attorney John Worcester to forward a counter offer to attorney Mickey Herron, representing Medicine Bow Equity Venture LCC, owner of the lots at Aspen Meadows. Worcester declined Tuesday to reveal what the city will accept to settle the dispute.
Medicine Bow had offered $50,000 per home – $150,000 in total – as a payment in lieu of providing three accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, that must be occupied by a qualified local worker. The units will still be built, Herron stressed, but the homeowners would not be required to rent them out. Mandatory occupancy of the ADUs and low rents was a condition of the 1991 approval for the homes.
The $50,000 per house reflects what Medicine Bow believes would have been the cash required in lieu of building a housing unit in 1991.
Richards balked at the sum, suggesting the owners be required to put up the amount that would be required today – $158,536 per house.
“I personally believe the bare minimum the council should consider accepting is that same price tag,” the mayor said. “The offer of $50,000 per ADU I find insulting.”
Richards also had harsh words for the property owner for failing to live up to the original terms of the development.
In June, the state’s high court ruled in a Telluride case that rent restrictions cannot be imposed on employee housing that is built and owned privately.
Since the Aspen Meadows ADUs were to be rental units, the ruling has invalidated the original development approval regarding the ADUs, Herron said. His clients, he said, have been advised they would likely prevail in a court challenge, if the city attempts to force them to rent out the ADUs at rates set by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
“This is probably as good [a case] as any to find out when somebody’s word is not their word,” Richards said.
“We’re entitled to take advantage of the decision without being accused of not keeping our word,” Herron responded.
Herron said his clients are willing to negotiate on the $50,000 offer. If the city lets the case go to court and loses, it could get nothing, he pointed out.
If the two parties negotiate a deal, the city would get some cash toward housing, plus the three ADUs, though their rental would no longer be mandatory, Herron said. The city believes about 30 percent of the privately owned ADUs in Aspen are actually rented out.
Herron said he expects all three homes to be second homes. The owners may well be interested in having a caretaker on site, he said.
In May, before the Telluride ruling, the city allowed a fourth lot owner at Aspen Meadows to purchase a free-market apartment in town and turn it over to the Housing Authority to escape the mandatory occupancy requirement of the home’s ADU.
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