After providing direction to staff on long-term concepts for the Phillips Trailer Park property at several meetings this year, Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday finally got down to some of the near-term topics on the minds of many residents.
Of 10 questions posed by Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice and Carbondale consultant Bob Schultz, a few rose to the forefront of the work session, although as Commissioner Greg Poschman later noted, the one-hour discussion may have ultimately raised more questions than answers.
A fair amount of time was spent on the topic of increasing the $350 monthly rental rate the county charges for the lots on which mobile homes, RVs and other types of structures sit. Mattice pointed out that the annual rent being collected has not been enough to cover the 40-unit trailer park’s operational expenses.
Her memorandum points out that for 10 months last year, following the county’s $6.5 million purchase of the 65-acre property in February 2018, the county collected rent of $132,025, while operating expenses were $147,965, a difference of $15,940. For the first eight months of this year, rent collections totaled $92,507 while operating expenses were $105,035, a difference of $12,528.
Commissioners generally were in favor of a $50-per-month increase, but expressed a desire to find out the official income and expenses of the residents to help guide future decisions. Those who live on fixed incomes may be able to afford some type of smaller, sliding-scale increase while others probably won’t balk at the prospect of paying an extra $50 per month, they said.
“I think rents have to go up,” Commissioner George Newman said. Poschman said the lot rents are quite low compared with those in other areas of the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I think that most of us can afford another $50,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.
Schultz said the rent collections also include storage fees — residents tend to park their snowmobiles and small trailers near the agricultural field on the hillside — and the rental price of a few county-owned cabins on the riverside. Commissioners gave direction to staff to research similar types of storage arrangements in the valley under the idea of raising those prices as well. The current fee is $25 per space.
A majority of residents at Phillips tend to own their structures outright, having lived there for decades, with their only affiliated expenses being lot rentals, utilities and property taxes. Others are renting from the owners of the various structures, paying free-market prices, which has led to several other questions.
Can a resident wishing to leave the area to take care of family rent out their unit? If so, should Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines apply? In general, can an owner rent out their unit?
The direction on those questions appeared to be a bit murkier, with commissioners asking Mattice to research APCHA’s rules on rental processes. A formal plan is expected to be put into place and implemented by Jan. 1. Newman said he didn’t think very many people are renting out their trailers at Phillips. Clapper said a fundamental requirement for renting a home at the trailer park should be that the person moving in is employed in Pitkin County.
Mattice’s memo states that current lot leases limit occupancy to the owner and any others listed on the lease. She said a homeowner can seek written permission to sublease by submitting a written request to her (email is firstname.lastname@example.org). The county will respond within 30 days.
Rental income will become a part of the owner’s income category and may affect future financial obligations in the park, the memo says. Staff has recommended that for any new renter, the owner must disclose the rent being charged.
Hyrum Noyes, the grandson of the couple that purchased the property in the early 1930s, has lived at Phillips Trailer Park full-time for the past 27 years. With his mother, Harriet, he has overseen its operations. After purchasing the property to preserve it as affordable housing, the county hired Hyrum as a contractor to continue its management, as he knew its infrastructure inside and out, including the peculiarities of its water and wastewater systems.
Among the long-term decisions made by commissioners is that the 10 units west of the Roaring Fork River, known as the “riverview properties,” will eventually have to be vacated because of infrastructure problems and the fact that many of them lie within a federally designated flood plain. Hyrum, who attended Tuesday’s work session to answer various questions, asked commissioners to move slowly with the forced removal of riverview structures and possible relocation of those residents to the hillside, should they so desire such a move, noting how much they love their bucolic spaces.
“The riverview property has never flooded, at least not since my family bought it,” he said after the meeting.
Hyrum additionally said he would soon get on with the business of removing several old sheds on the lower bluff east of the river near the Rio Grande Trail, just below the existing 30-unit hillside section of Phillips. That section of the property could become new lots for the redeveloped trailer park.
A majority of commissioners previously decided in favor of long-term density of no more than 60 units at the reconfigured affordable-housing development, all in the hillside area, which could mean expansion further up the hillside and perhaps part of the agricultural field.