Residents of Phillips Trailer Park north of Woody Creek face an estimated 75 percent increase in costs if they are allowed to purchase the lots beneath their dwellings, according to a financial analysis prepared by consultants for Pitkin County government.
The county purchased the 65-acre Phillips property last year for $6.5 million with the goal of maintaining it as affordable housing. The community consists roughly of about 10 units on the Roaring Fork River off Highway 82 and 30 units on a nearby hillside above Lower River Road. Pitkin County commissioners discussed the future of the property on Tuesday during a work session that included a brief overview of financial scenarios.
Currently, owners of the mobile homes and other structures that aren’t especially mobile pay the county $350 per month for the lots: the same price that the former owner, a longtime local family, was charging. A potential monthly increase to $611 includes the price of operating and capital expenses, including reimbursing the county for infrastructure improvements — at no interest over a 20-year period — and the purchase of a lot.
The estimates are based on a redevelopment of the community that would add about 15 to 20 units to the property, bringing the total to 60. Officials stressed that the estimates are exactly that, and subject to future fluctuation.
They also say there is a long way to go in terms of bringing plans for the property to fruition. Including Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners have only met twice this year to provide direction on Phillips to county staff and consultants, and no firm decisions have been made. Many residents have stated that they would like to own their individual lots, an idea that has the general support of commissioners, chiefly Patti Clapper, and so consultants have been forging ahead under that premise.
At the two work sessions, Clapper has sounded the alarm to give residents “housing security.” A Powerpoint presentation that accompanied this week’s meeting states, “A final development where residents are in charge of the property is desirable.”
The sorting of myriad issues remains, and infrastructure problems involving water, wastewater and drainage are chief among them. Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice, who has taken charge of the redevelopment initiative, said it could be 10 years before the property is functioning like other trailer-park communities in the county such as Woody Creek or Aspen Village.
“There are a lot of moving parts,” Mattice said.
As for this year, the county may take on short-term improvements such as fire-mitigation projects on the hillside above the trailer homes on Lower River Road, she said. Some riverside farm sheds need to be cleaned out and an evaluation of debris flow might be initiated.
Outside consultants include Laura Kirk of DHM Design, which has an office in Carbondale, and local land planner Bob Schultz. At a meeting in February, they laid out three options for commissioners, one that involved reducing the number of units, another that involves “no net loss” and a third that would significantly increase the density of the trailer park, raising the number of units on the property to more than 100.
In the end, commissioners expressed favor for the middle option, “no net loss,” but left room for the addition of 10 to 20 new units. For example, Clapper has voiced support for the development of tiny homes in the area. The planners have indicated that the sun-drenched agricultural land south of the hillside units may be suitable for larger lots that could accommodate double-wide trailers. Some commissioners, however, want to preserve some of that land for future agricultural uses.
Planners have recommended, and commissioners have agreed, that the riverside units close to Highway 82 must be relocated to the hillside. The cost of infrastructure improvements to accommodate fewer than 10 units there is too high. Not only that, the area lies within a 100-year flood plain, according to a recent update of Federal Emergency Management Agency maps.
Another complication may be the fact that most of the riverside properties are not fully located on county-owned land. In other words, the former owner developed, or allowed development, on state-owned property. Mattice said the state probably would be willing to sell the land to the county for about $250,000. Still, it’s another potential hurdle in the redevelopment process.
It’s unlikely the county will push residents to relocate their riverside trailers to the hillside this year, or even next year, Mattice said. But residents of the lower area fall under the highest risk of displacement given their extreme infrastructure problems — in the last month, the water supply was emptied due to the simple matter of someone’s running toilet.
“I’d say there’s some risk on the riverside,” Mattice said. “If the wastewater system or the water system fails and it costs $1 million to fix it, we’re probably not doing that.”
Another issue may be the reluctance of residents to relocate. Many have spent a lot of time and money in recent years on fixed additions to their structures. While their mobile homes may be moveable, their decks and patios aren’t. Some commissioners have expressed support for transforming the riverside area into a community park — perhaps for the sole use of the hillside residents, as Steve Child suggested.
The county also wants to bring the area up to code. Many trailers don’t meet Housing and Urban Development specifications adopted in 1976. A few structures on each side of the river date back to the early 1960s. Some dwellings are recreational vehicles disguised as mobile homes.
And, at some point, Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority regulations will come into play, meaning renters and homeowners may have to qualify under APCHA’s guidelines for affordable housing. Today, the community is a hodgepodge of owners, renters — even couch surfers — who have yet to be subjected to the sometimes-stringent affordable-housing qualification process.
Commissioners on Tuesday also agreed to participate in a site visit over the next few months to give them a better idea about areas suitable for expansion and relocation.