A no-win situation for Airport Ranch residents
Editor’s note: This guest opinion is in response to some articles in The Aspen Times in May about sewage problems that resulted in the county evicting residents on a ranch three miles outside of Aspen. Lada Vrany has lived there since 1958, and inexpensively rents out trailers and old farm buildings to about seven residents on the premises.I was Lada Vrany’s wife for 17 years, 1975 to 1992, and lived on the Airport Ranch with him during that time. Previous to Pitkin County’s purchase of the ranch, about 1,000 acres, Mrs. Paepcke had sold parts of it off for the Airport Business Center, the Airport, and the bus barn. The bus barn was the last piece sold before the county decided they wanted the entire property. The bus barn property sold for about $35,000 per acre which was in line with property values at that time.The county and Mrs. P (as she was fondly called) negotiated for an extended period of time over the price for the entire ranch. She wanted a reasonable value since they had paid the going price for the last purchase. The county decided not to negotiate any longer and condemned the property, purchasing it for 10 cents on the dollar. Not a bad deal for the county. I felt at that time it was criminal especially because of all Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke had done and contributed to Aspen over the years. It seems the county now wants Lada off the property and is going to starve him out instead of buying him out, as is required of long-term tenants.When they purchased the property in 1988 we kept no secrets from anyone. The county knew people were living there and they had been since about 1976. At that time we charged anywhere from $100 to $300 per month plus their utilities. That is considerably less than any of them could have found a place for in Aspen, even Silver King Apartments which no longer exist. As I remember they never gave us a lease; we had one with Mrs. P. And also why would Lada want to sign a lease when he is considered a permanent tenant by the law?For a little history, Lada came to Aspen at the request of Stein Eriksen, whom he met in Norway after Lada threw a backpack on his back and walked out of communist Czechoslovakia in 1948. He spent a year in DP camp (displaced persons) which was very similar to concentration camp, until he was able to move to Norway. From there he got to Banff, where he had a ski school. In the interim the Czech government tried to get him to come back to teach skiing (he was on the Czech ski and canoeing teams). He decided to accept Stein’s offer and teach at Aspen Highlands in 1958. Lada is part of the beginning of skiing in Aspen as it is known today and has some great stories about Whip Jones and other notables of that era.Since Lada has lived on the property for such an extended period of time, there are only four ways the county can get him off: Death is the first. Since Lada is 87, has had two hip replacements, trouble with blood clots, heart surgery, kidney stones, etc., chances are he will not live to 107, at which time the county regains the property. They can buy him out. They actually tried to do that when I was there but decided they did not want to spend the money. It has to do with old homesteading/squatters rights laws. He defaults on rent payments; a situation they are certainly setting up. Or as he told County Commissioner Mick Ireland, put a hit on him, which he was told they cannot do.Lada has been trying for four to five years to get Pitkin County to buy him out so he could move somewhere, have a little income because Social Security does not cut it, and live out his days in peace.He and the commissioners have been at each other’s throats since I met him in 1975 because Lada feels strongly about water rights, property rights and was fighting for Mrs. P on these issues. He probably knows more about water than most attorneys except for water attorneys. Lada does not have the sophistication, education, resources, or any family support, so he is an easy victim. He is cantankerous and very politically incorrect. Because he fights for what he believes, he has stepped on lots of toes over the years, and I believe the county wants him gone because they have something in mind for the property and he is in the way.Since they cannot put a hit on him and they don’t want to buy him out, they are going to starve him out by eliminating his income. He will have to make a decision whether to eat or buy medication, whether to have heat or electricity. Their gesture to give him free rent is a pittance. I would tell the details but it is better left unsaid. I know this is not as magnanimous an act of charity on their part as they would have you believe. Let me just say my cost of living went up considerably when I moved to Grand Junction in 1992.The county has historically acted amorally and unethically in regards to this property, and I think this is just another example. Lada has a septic system and leach field and all the county would have to do is probably replace the tank as we did a couple of times and redo the leach field. No big deal. And porta-potties work great for construction crews and along roadsides, so that is a simple solution. I believe I saw a couple when I was there this spring.Aspen and Pitkin County tout themselves as being great liberals supporting the elderly; this is a pretty sad example, and I am embarrassed for them. This would never have happened 20 years ago, but the morality of the area has disintegrated, and the Aspen area has lost its heart.Lynn Vrany lives in Grand Junction.
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