Tim Semrau: Guest Opinion | AspenTimes.com
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Tim Semrau: Guest Opinion

Tim Semrau
Aspen, CO Colorado

Affordable housing is Aspen’s holy grail, but does that mean millions of dollars should be wasted chasing it?

I am, of course, referring to the $18.5 million spent by the city on the purchase of the BMC lumberyard, a minimum of $10 million over market price. At the time of the purchase, the county assessor’s value of the property was $6.5 million. John McBride, who has decades of experience at the Aspen Business Center, which sits next to the BMC property, has also stated the market value of the property to be $6.5 million.

The city rushed into this purchase with 15 days of due diligence, 30 days to close on the property, no appraisal, no public comment, and held its deliberations in closed session. So much for transparency and community input.

Recently, the papers have printed several guest columns from city spinners attempting to justify this wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. The city also paid for a “hypothetical” appraisal (hypothetical is defined as an appraisal based on conditions that are contrary to fact) in an attempt to cover themselves, an appraisal based on all sorts of fantasy outcomes for the property. Every bank and lender require an “as is” appraisal to confirm market price at the time of purchase, which the city did not obtain ” and never will.

The city asset manager wrote a column stating that the property was explicitly purchased for a high density housing project, and that is why the appraisal was based on this “important scenario.” The city’s real estate agent, who was paid hundreds of thousands in commission, wrote that the price was based on “what the property’s use could be if the zoning were changed.”

So the city pays full price on what the value of the land might be if all their fantasy uses are realized, and ignores the market price as is! All crap! No one in their right mind pays more than market price, no matter what they might do with a property.

So why would the city make a $10 million-plus blunder? Because they could. Because they’re blinded by “OPM” use ” “other people’s money.” But in this case, the OPM is ours, the taxpayers of Aspen. The money used was our affordable housing fund, which is now completely wiped out by the decisions of the current council. The city’s spinning to justify this blunder would be laughable if it weren’t so insulting ” and so harmful.

I’ll bet a dinner to anyone in Aspen that there’s no possible way any independent appraisal of the market value of the property (not a cooked “hypothetical” appraisal) at the time of purchase was more than $8 million.

This City Council has taken a $20 million surplus in the affordable housing fund and, through its decisions, has reduced it to a negative $15 million debt to the Wheeler Fund. City Council has spent $35 million in the past two years on fantastically bloated land purchases behind closed doors.

Nothing, I repeat, NOTHING, can be built until the taxpayers bail out the city’s blunders. Instead of spending $35 million on the land bank that now needs a bailout, the city could have used the $20 million they had in the fund two years ago to begin to build the second phase of Burlingame. By now, it would be complete and filled with happy local homeowners.

What can a concerned citizen do? Ask the 13 people running for office this May, incumbent or not, to clearly state their opinion of the city’s wasteful management of our precious affordable housing fund and what they intend to do about it. Don’t take anything but a straight answer, and remember the answer in November if and when the city says “give us $50 million or no more affordable housing.”

I can’t wait to see the city’s spin-job to justify a $50 million bond in November, with the key words being “trust us to spend this wisely.”

In these challenging economic times we need an effective affordable housing program. We should demand leaders who understand and appreciate the precious nature of our taxpayer dollars and will use them astutely and wisely.

I’m impressed by our local newspaper’s investigative work ferreting out the city’s spending of thousands on meals, yet can’t believe they seem uninterested in the city wasting millions on closed-door real estate blunders. Where’s the outrage?


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