A majority of Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday favored future plans for Phillips Trailer Park that involve “no net loss” of housing units but also call for the removal of up to 10 riverside lots said to be in a floodplain, with their relocation to the larger part of the community located on a nearby hillside.
At a Tuesday work session, commissioners heard from planners associated with DHM Consulting of Carbondale who laid out three broad options for the future of the property. The county paid $6.5 million to the community’s longtime owners for 65 acres of land early last year, with the goal of maintaining it as affordable housing and keeping it out of the hands of private developers.
The trailer park, located a few miles north of Woody Creek, consists of 10 units on the west side of the Roaring Fork River, with direct access to Highway 82, and 30 units on the east side of the river, on a hill above Lower River Road. The trailer park has an estimated 60 residents, many of whom have lived on the property for decades. The county owns the land while the mobile homes and other types of dwellings are privately owned. Some of the units serve as rental properties, but they have yet to be subjected to oversight from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
Planners noted that under their first two options, the riverside units would be removed for a variety of reasons, including the high cost of improving water and sewerage systems in an area identified as a flood plain. Option 1 would have the county pushing a “reset” button on the community, phasing out the riverside lots and restoring the area’s riparian habitat. Option 2, the alternative that most commissioners appeared to favor, would allow the riverside residents to relocate their homes, or acquire newer ones, to be placed on lots in an undeveloped agricultural field on the hillside.
Planners pointed out that the hillside area has its issues too, including lots and trailers that are susceptible to fire danger because they are too close together. And both sides of the trailer park lack suitable water flow for fighting house fires. Another possible danger to some of the homes on the hillside is debris flow from above. Over the past few decades, the property’s caretakers performed some contouring to reduce the potential for mudslides.
The third option for the property touts a “village concept” with an increase of up to 118 lots and possible construction of tiny homes, all in the name of increasing the county’s affordable-housing inventory. Under this option, the riverside lots would not be relocated. Some commissioners expressed concern that doubling the number of units in the Phillips community would be out of step with the “rural character” of that area of the county.
Planners said that all three options would require long-range planning, and characterized Tuesday’s discussion as a “starting point.” Other discussion points involved bringing homes into compliance with county codes and the possible addition of public amenities such as recreational access to the river.
The question on the minds of many residents – whether they will be given the option of purchasing the land beneath their homes – received little attention at the meeting. Planners and county officials have said previously that lot purchases could be accommodated through an official subdivision process.
Since there was no formal proposal requiring a vote, a public hearing was not held. Commissioners simply listened to an overview of the options and offered a few thoughts on where they stood.
George Newman said the second option, with relocation of the riverside lots, made the most sense to him. He voiced concern for the “health, safety and welfare” of the riverside residents and the high cost of improving water and wastewater systems.
Newman expressed that he was no fan of the “village” option and doubling the size of the community. However, he said a small increase in the number of lots on the hillside, to accommodate the riverside unit owners and perhaps a few others, would be OK.
He noted that the county itself is not a developer, and that any private enterprise brought in to create new affordable housing would want to build free-market housing in order to make the venture profitable.
Patti Clapper said she doesn’t want to see any riverside residents displaced. Noting that she was “a big fan of tiny homes,” she said she would not be opposed to a slight expansion of lots in the hillside area. She said she is not in favor of building on the steep slopes above the present-day trailer homes, a suggestion that planners made as part of the third option.
Clapper said providing safe water to the community is important. She also would like to see habitat improvements along the river, perhaps with assistance from the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board.
Clapper noted she would one day like to see residents take ownership of their lots. “That’s what we call security in housing,” she said.
Steve Child said he wants residents to be a larger part of the process before the county gets too far along in its planning. He said that the county shouldn’t waste its time with the first option, which would reduce the overall number of units.
Kelly McNicholas Kury said that as a new commissioner, she had more questions than opinions, especially relating to how officially stated “county values” would apply to the options. She said that public-health concerns were paramount and asked questions about the differences between the three options from that standpoint. She also wondered whether the county would leave the door open for future county commissioners to expand the community.
Greg Poschman also said he preferred the “no net loss” option, to preserve the community that’s already there, and added that he was excited about the opportunities for river restoration.