Roy questions paying debt on city land | AspenTimes.com

Roy questions paying debt on city land

Allyn Harvey

Pitkin County Commissioner Shellie Roy continued her attempts to scuttle a deal with the city of Aspen yesterday, arguing that the county is “in a position of being blackmailed.”

Roy has been the most consistent critic of a deal between the governments that would convey the property underneath the existing youth center next to Rio Grande Park from county ownership to the city free of charge.

The governments have been horse trading the property in question, which also includes portions of the public parking garage and library, for two decades. The latest attempt to swap ownership has been actively pursued for about two years, although the agreement relating to the swap was originally made in 1992.

The county commissioners agreed to live up to that 1992 agreement just two weeks ago, voting 4-1 to convey ownership of the youth center land to the city. Roy was the one vote against.

The deal became a pressing matter for the city when it began construction of a new youth center in the recreation complex at Iselin Park. Aspen is providing the center with a $1.5 million space in the new building in exchange for the existing youth center. But that arrangement hinged on the city acquiring the county-owned piece of land beneath the center.

The existing youth center on Rio Grande Place straddles a city/county property line. The city has long contended that the county was to give its property beneath the building to the city as part of a complex series of land deals dating back to 1982.

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Roy’s latest objections to the deal relate to the fact that the county will continue to pay off debt on the land even though it will be owned by someone else – in this case the city. In the past, she has questioned the wisdom of doing anything with the land at all, and she has suggested making the city buy it at free-market rates.

“I don’t think we’re meeting our fiduciary responsibilities by assuming a note for land we don’t own,” Roy said.

As part of the deal with the city, the county has agreed to pay off the remainder of the original $195,000 note on the property in 1975, the year it was purchased from the Oden family.

At yesterday’s first reading on the agreement, the commissioners again voted 4-1 to proceed with the exchange, with Roy again voting against it. They essentially agreed that the county’s obligation dates back to the late 1980s and an agreement on construction of the Pitkin County Library on the Oden property.

According to a memo prepared for yesterday’s meeting, the land was originally purchased by the county in 1975 for $190,000. Over the years, the land has changed ownership between the two governments several times.

In 1982, the county sold the land to the city, which hoped to use the land for a performing arts center, but the project never got off the ground.

In 1987, the city agreed to give the land back to the county in a deal to build the parking garage and a new library on the land. The county agreed to pick up payments on the property’s debt, but didn’t begin making payments until 1990.

The Aspen Youth Center agreement was signed in 1992, allowing the building to be built on what was then county-owned land. At the time, Aspen officials believed they had also agreed to a deal that would finally convey the property in question to the city, but the county did not sign the agreement.

When the city sought to take title of the land in 2000, the county balked. Roy and the other commissioners raised a number of objections and asked for concessions on the building’s use.

The county’s reluctance caused considerable tension with the city.

Aspen has potential municipal uses for the building in mind once the youth center moves out. The county commissioners are hoping to secure some much-needed space for their employees there, too. The city has been unwilling to guarantee the county any use of the building, though that option has not been ruled out.

The majority at yesterday’s meeting agreed that by continuing to pay off the original debt on the land, the county was meeting its obligations from the agreement involving the library, which was being located on what, at the time, was city-owned property.

At the urging of Jack Hatfield, the commissioners added a clause to the agreement with the city that limits the county from assuming any more financial obligations in connection with the land. Yesterday’s vote was a first reading. The amended agreement will be sent to the city for comment and scheduled for a public hearing later this spring.

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