Skico housing plan jolts the midvalley
EL JEBEL Part of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan to ease its affordable-housing crisis could displace more than 100 residents from an existing apartment complex in El Jebel.The Skico announced Monday that it has a contract to purchase the 64-unit Sopris View Apartments on Valley Road, across from Crown Mountain Park and just downvalley from the old Fitzsimmons carwash.Existing tenants learned late last week that they will have at least one year from the closing date to find alternative housing, Jim Laing, Skico vice president of human resources said Monday. Closing is anticipated in 60 to 90 days.Tenants will be asked to move only when there is demand among the Skico’s long-term, full-time employees, he said. The demand won’t come all at once, Laing said, so some existing tenants could have their leases renewed after one year.But news of the probable sale and potential displacement has rattled current tenants of the apartment complex, even if they are secure for one year.”Jim Laing hasn’t looked for a place to live for a while,” said Bill Van Alstyne, a tenant of Sopris View for seven months.He said it is extremely difficult to find affordable housing to rent in the Roaring Fork Valley, particularly with the attributes of Sopris View. All 64 apartments are two-bedroom, two-bath. They are close to the school bus stop and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority stops. Van Alstyne pays $1,250 per month, which partially covers utilities. His daughter has her own room on the weeks she stays with him.One year might sound like a long time to find alternative housing, but it’s really not, said Van Alstyne, a 27-year resident of the valley.”If it’s not that hard, why is the Skico down here?” he asked.The Skico purchased the Thunder River Lodge in Carbondale last year and converted the low-end tourist accommodation into affordable housing. It is renovating the 23 units with kitchenettes this winter to create better options for its employees.The Skico also has projects planned in Aspen and Snowmass Village. It renovated the old Holiday House ski lodge, which provides 50 beds. It also hopes to secure approval for Club Commons II in Snowmass Village, which will provide around 125 beds.Building affordable housing is a priority for the company, Laing said. Skico officials believe they must seize any opportunity, including those downvalley, particularly since in the upper valley “it just doesn’t go as quickly as we’d like,” he said.Sopris View’s owners, who include Basalt businessmen Paul Adams and Clay Crossland, weren’t actively marketing the apartments for sale. Laing was uncertain how the Skico got involved in the deal.The potential purchase and displacement of Sopris View residents met with surprise from many midvalley elected officials and activists.Eagle County Commissioner Peter Runyon said he would prefer to see the Skico use its “considerable economic clout” to develop new housing. The purchase of an existing apartment complex does little to address the bigger problems with affordable housing, he said.”They’re shuffling the chairs on the Titanic,” Runyon said.Sopris View Apartments are in unincorporated Eagle County, about a mile from the Basalt town limit. Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux said the Skico’s purchase of the apartment complex will exacerbate the midvalley housing crisis if tenants are displaced to make way for Skico employees.”I guess the ski company is trying to solve their problem, but it’s not to the benefit of the entire community,” Duroux said.Basalt Councilman Chris Seldin took a different view of the proposed purchase.”I’m really reluctant to fault the Skico when they’re doing something,” Seldin said.He said escalating rents and conversion of housing to second homes are the biggest challenges the midvalley is facing.Midvalley activist and former Basalt councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt agreed with Duroux that the Skico’s purchase of an existing apartment complex for its housing needs “just doesn’t seem to solve the bigger problem.””It’s the worst possible scenario to displace people,” she said.Laing said the criticism would be valid if the purchase of the apartment complex was the only move the Skico undertook to tackle its affordable housing issues. In a “perfect world,” he said, the company would always add new housing.But it’s also adding new units in the upper valley, he noted, and when Skico employees start moving into Sopris View, it will free up additional dwellings.But will those units be as affordable as Sopris View? Resident Borfilo Reblla said he recently moved in and was nervous about looking for a new place. He said he looks forward to talking to the management to discuss what exactly the sale will mean to him and his family. “It’s bad,” was his early assessment.Van Alstyne said the pending sale “is the talk of the complex” and that all neighbors he has talked to share his opinion that they’re getting the shaft. Van Alstyne said he wants to know why the Skico can sink millions of dollars into Base Village in Snowmass but cannot provide an adequate amount of housing without displacing midvalley residents.”They’re just not making friends in the valley, I can tell you that,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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