A neighboring property owner of the proposed Habitat for Humanity low-income duplex in Aspen is monitoring the process through an attorney he has hired, and an offer to buy the lot is one option that could prevent it from being redeveloped.
The 6,000-square-foot lot at 1230 E. Cooper Ave., where an old A-frame home now sits, is owned by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA).
APCHA executive director Tom McCabe said an offer could be made at the housing authority’s meeting on Wednesday via Aspen attorney Greg Gordon, who is representing the nearby property owner.
But Gordon said that might be premature, given that it’s so early in the process.
“I don’t know if my client is interested in bidding against Habitat for Humanity and if he is, I don’t know what he is prepared to offer. ... There is just some more due diligence to be done.
“I certainly hope to be in a position to have an answer for them — either an offer or we’re not interested — by the next meeting but it may not be possible.”
The small lot is zoned R-15A, which means only a single-family home is allowed there. APCHA and Habitat for Humanity Roaring Fork Valley will have to apply for it to be rezoned, which will have to be approved by either the Planning and Zoning Commission or City Council, said city historic preservation officer Amy Simon. The house, originally built in the 1930s and remodeled in 1965, is not designated as historic.
She added that there is no dedicated zone district for a duplex on that small of a lot. Sara Adams, the city’s senior planner, said the minimum lot size allowed for duplexes is 15,000 square feet.
Gordon said he was initially retained by his client to find out exactly what is allowed to be built on the lot.
“Everyone is trying to get our heads around what can be done there,” he said.
Meanwhile, APCHA and Habitat are drafting a preliminary agreement, which will outline the deal involving the housing authority conveying the land and Habitat building a duplex with two three-bedroom units.
APCHA bought the property out of foreclosure on the courthouse steps in 2009 for $294,974. And while a few proposals for an affordable housing complex had been proposed by private developers over the years, none of them won over the APCHA board, McCabe said.
“So it sat on the back burner,” he said, adding that after the proposals landed on his desk he started thinking about partnering with Habitat.
“It got my juices going,” he said. “I thought we have this piece of property and it’s not doing us any good. ... Habitat will do what we cannot do; they can finance it and structure the loans to ensure success [for the homeowners].”
Because of the partnership with Habitat, APCHA could offer the units to the lowest income category it has in its program, so a family making $57,500 a year or less could live there.
Currently, an APCHA employee lives in the old house and maintains it in exchange for getting a break on rent.
Gordon appeared in front of the APCHA board last month, and McCabe said it was suggested that a monetary offer or land swap could occur in order to keep the lot empty.
Local real estate agents estimate the lot could sell on the free market for at least $1.5 million.
It would likely have to be a sweet deal for the board to forgo a partnership in which the housing authority wouldn’t pay to build “category 1” housing, which has never been done in Aspen before because of the high subsidy associated with it. A land swap could get complicated, as well.
“I don’t know how the board will approach it” if a proposal is presented,” McCabe said. “There are four people on the board who are savvy on property and real estate and they know what it takes to get through the process.
“I don’t think it will be difficult for them to choose.”