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Telluride case is felt in Aspen

Janet Urquhart

A Colorado Supreme Court ruling that strikes down rent controls on privately owned employee units has tossed the construction of three such units in Aspen into limbo.

The owner of three lots at Aspen Meadows is arguing that the court’s recent decision in a Telluride case invalidates the housing requirement for the lots.

Local attorney Mickey Herron, representing the owner, appeared before the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority Board last night to ask that his clients not be held to the housing requirement originally imposed with approval of the lots.

The approval required a one-bedroom, Category 1 rental unit, with mandatory occupancy, on each lot.

Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that rent restrictions cannot be imposed on employee housing that is built and owned privately. The ruling does not apply to public projects, like housing built by the Housing Authority.

Herron’s clients, Medicine Bowe Equity Venture, LLC, instead proposed to construct a caretaker unit on each lot, with no mandatory occupancy, and pay $50,000 per lot to the Housing Authority as a cash-in-lieu payment.

Herron said the second-home owners would likely rent out the caretaker units even without being forced to do so.

“Nobody else rents them. Why would your guys?” responded Jackie Kasabach, Housing Board chairwoman.

Mick Ireland, a county commissioner and board member, voiced disappointment that the lot owners wouldn’t abide by the deal that was struck when the lots were approved, even if they no longer have to.

“What ever happened to the notion of ethics? I think it’s just unfortunate that that’s just the way life works,” he said.

Herron, however, said it is unfair to paint his clients as “bad guys.”

“[The housing] is an exaction that the Supreme Court at this point has said you couldn’t make,” he said. “We’re trying to make a compromise that ends up working for everybody.”

“The Supreme Court did not say we don’t have the ability to exact mitigation,” Ireland shot back. “We picked the wrong thing as an exaction.”

Housing Director Mary Roberts said she didn’t know what amount would have been required as a cash-in-lieu-of-housing payment in 1991, when the Aspen Meadows development was approved. The current guidelines would require $257,250 per lot, she said.

That’s too expensive, said Herron, suggesting such a requirement would land the matter in court.

In the end, Ireland suggested the board recommend that the client be required to “buy down” one or more free-market units for deed-restricted employee housing.

The board last month allowed another lot owner at Aspen Meadows to buy down a unit at another location because the deed-restricted unit planned on the lot was attached to the master bedroom.

The final decision on the three lots now in question rests with the Aspen City Council. Ireland suggested the housing board leave it up to the council to decide how many units must be purchased in the free market, if it takes that route to settle the matter.


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