Transportation authority not ready to make rail car decision | AspenTimes.com

Transportation authority not ready to make rail car decision

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority postponed making a decision Thursday on the future of some train cars being used as affordable housing in Woody Creek.

The two cars sit on defunct train tracks that are part of the Aspen branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Western railroad corridor, which is now owned by the authority. But since the area is not zoned for housing, the county is threatening to fine the RTA.

In response, the authority is considering passing a resolution that eliminates housing or commercial operations in the corridor. Residents of the train cars would be forced to move.

“I’ll take responsibility for saying `wait, we need more information than this,’ ” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, who is chairing the operations and planning committee looking into the issue.

Klanderud said more information has been brought to light recently about the history of the train cars that must be included in the decision.

“In my opinion, there are some historic structure issues involved here, affordable housing issues, and Pitkin County is willing to have us work this out,” Klanderud said. “So all in all, it makes more sense to send it back and then bring it back to the RTA board in April.”

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Although the issue was postponed, the RTA board listened to comments from two residents of the train cars. Skye Larsh, daughter of train car owner Edward Larsh, told the board that preserving the cars is in the best interest of history, and the board should factor that into their decision.

She also said that two people currently living in a train car are qualified at taking care of the historic “Anaokia” train car.

According to the proposed RTA resolution, conservation of the corridor is “degraded by allowing human habitation” or “commercial operations” in the area. The resolution also states that people living in the corridor compromises the possibility of using the area for rail.

Klanderud said the issue is complicated further since the train cars may have been in the area before Pitkin County’s land-use codes were written. Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey, who also sits on the RTA board, said even though the RTA owns the land, Pitkin County must enforce its own zoning codes.

“Even if the RTA says it’s OK [for people to continue to live in the cars], the county commissioners will have to OK that they live there,” Hershey said. “It’s like if you own property in Aspen, it doesn’t mean you can have 50 people living in one apartment.”

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