July 25, 2014

Pitkin County adds to its employee housing portfolio

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The Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday voted to buy an acre-and-a-half of land on Southside Avenue in Basalt from the Aspen Skiing Co. for $1.4 million in an effort to house government employees.

SkiCo, through an entity called Brush Creek Land Co. LLC, bought the 1.56-acre property on Southside Drive in Basalt for $2 million in 2007, according to county assessor records.

The county might partner with SkiCo to co-develop and then have the company manage up to 24 multi-family townhomes on the site, which is just across the Rio Grande Trail from Basalt High School.

“One of the goals of the county has been to try and get into partnerships where we have another capable entity to manage the properties long term,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said. “The ski company has expressed interest in partnering with us on development of the project, and management of the project. We are not obligated to do that under this purchase agreement. We think, though, that may be a good idea.”

The commissioners also approved on first reading the purchase of a one-bedroom condo at Hunter Creek for $420,000 and a two-bedroom apartment at the Airport Business Center (ABC) for $370,000.

The county bought the 581-square-foot Hunter Creek unit from Sheri L. Singer of Aspen, who paid $352,000 for the unit in 2005.

And it bought the 685-square-foot unit at the ABC from Howie Mallory of Aspen, who paid $240,000 for it in 2002.

All three deals, which total $2.19 million, are contingent on appraisals of the properties and approval by the commissioners at a second reading scheduled for Aug. 13.

The land purchase on Southside Avenue in Basalt marks the county’s first foray into land-banking for its nascent housing program. And it marks its initial effort at participating in a project with a development partner.

The lot is not yet annexed into the town of Basalt, but it is within the town’s urban growth boundary and inside Pitkin County.

“In discussions with Basalt staff, it appears to be appropriate for development,” Peacock said of the site, adding that preliminary layouts in a townhome configuration show the possibility of 24 units there.

The property is in the Stott’s Mill neighborhood, but is not part of another project called Stott’s Mill across the street, which is now the site of a planned retirement community.

Money for housing

The money for the county’s housing efforts is coming from its housing mitigation fund, which is made up of fees from developments.

The county started the year with $11.2 million in its housing fund and has brought in $210,323 in fees so far in 2014.

If the sale of the Basalt lot and the two apartments goes through, that will leave $9.2 million in the county’s housing fund.

“We have been collecting this mitigation money for some time now,” said Rob Ittner, the current chair of the board of county commissioners. “It’s been building up in the bank to the tune of about $11 million, with a very, very, very low interest rate over the last five-plus years.”

Ittner said it was good to put the money toward actual housing, and pointed out that the units will appreciate in value over time, the county will see revenue from rent, and there is a good deal of value to the community in providing a local worker a place to live.

The three purchases on Wednesday were unanimously approved by the commissioners in three separate votes, with commissioner Rachel Richards recusing herself from the vote on the Hunter Creek property, as she lives in the condo complex. There wasn’t much discussion about the properties, but typically commissioners are briefed on potential purchases of property in closed executive sessions prior to considering a purchase in public.

The county paid $342,000 in 2012 for a three-bedroom condo in the Columbines in Elk Run in Basalt.

Also in the county’s current housing portfolio is another three-bedroom condo in Elk Run, a one-bedroom unit at the ABC, a one-bedroom unit at Aspen View Condominiums on Midland Avenue in Aspen, a one-bedroom unit at Hunter Creek, and a cabin at the public works department.

It’s the county’s goal to rent half of its units to its employees and the other half to qualifying employees from the community, Peacock said.

After the purchase of the two new condos at the ABC and Hunter Creek, the county would have eight employee housing units. The county has about 230 employees.

It is the county’s policy to retain ownership of its housing units and hold them for the long-term as assets. If it does ever sell them, it would then place a deed-restriction on the units, according to Peacock.

Peacock disclosed to the commissioners, however, that covenants on the Hunter Creek unit prevent a deed-restriction being placed on it, so it would be sold as a free-market condo and the money then returned to the housing fund.

The county does not put a formal deed-restriction on the units it owns, but rents them consistent with the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority’s Category 2 guidelines, which sets a maximum income for the dweller at $60,100.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborate on this story with the Aspen Daily News, which published in on Thursday, July 24, 2014.

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