Nothing tangible is expected to happen overnight, but documents made public on Friday afternoon suggest that the winds of change will be blowing through the Phillips Trailer Park community in the not-too-distant future.
For $6.5 million, Pitkin County government purchased 65 acres of what’s known as the Phillips property, north of Woody Creek, from its longtime owners in early 2018. The goal was to protect the area from private development, with the goal of maintaining the land as affordable housing while implementing improvements. DHM Consulting of Carbondale was hired by the county last year as the lead contractor of a multi-tiered planning effort to study the community’s needs and pinpoint problems related to infrastructure and public health.
Interviews with residents and assessments of the property — which identifies with Old Snowmass from a postal service perspective — have been underway since August. The property contains an estimated 40 units, of which around 30 are located on the east side of the Roaring Fork River on an often sunny hillside off Lower River Road. Another 10 units sit on shaded bottomland west of the river just off Highway 82, opposite from the units on higher ground. The county owns the land but the homes atop the individual lots are privately owned.
At a work session of Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday, county staff and outside consultants will present three options for the trailer park’s future in hope of obtaining input that will steer the planning effort. No official vote will be conducted, and commissioners could reject all three concepts, lean toward one option or forge some type of combination of them. Or, they could postpone giving their direction in order to gain more information. The discussion is tentatively set for 2 p.m.
“These conceptual plans are just the starting point to get feedback from the board on key policy decisions which will inform the next phase of the planning effort,” a staff memorandum to commissioners says.
The documents released Friday, part of Tuesday’s overall meeting materials, point to myriad problems with the property’s infrastructure. Drinking water and wastewater systems are a top concern. Other issues include the lack of fire-protection systems, trailer lots that are too small to meet standard zoning regulations and others that are located in flood-plain areas, and homes that are in no condition or unable to be relocated.
The following capsules provide a basic look at the three options that DHM Consultants and its subcontractors will bring to commissioners on Tuesday. Many of the details connected with the options, according to the documents, are driven by public health and safety concerns.
Option 1: “The reset button”
The county’s purchase of the Phillips property is a chance for a “reset,” to bring the property more in line with current county planning and initiatives, according to the documents prepared for the work session.
Long-term affordability for residents and the county, along with public safety concerns, will require transitioning the site over time toward a smaller enclave of units that have fewer irregularities “in order to create long-term housing security,” the documents state.
“Maintaining the current mobile home configuration would require addressing expensive infrastructure and boundary issues and results in housing that is not linked to the other benefits of housing within the Urban Growth Boundary,” the documents say. “There are units outside of the current property boundary and leach fields off of the property, there is no fire protection and there are flood-plain issues; rather than spending money to overcome those issues, the community is better off re-envisioning the future of Phillips.”
Under the first option, planners envision “safely and efficiently” accommodating as many units as possible within the existing footprint of the hillside units and to transition the rest of the property to agricultural use, riparian restoration and public access.
“Over time, the site could become a regional amenity for fishing, boat access and riparian education,” the documents state. An existing ranch house next to the river could be transformed into an educational center, a community center for residents or employee housing for county open-space staff.
Should the county prefer not to directly manage the lots on the Phillips property, the subdivision process could be used to create parcels that reflect the desire of some residents to purchase the land under their home. Amid that process, an agricultural parcel and a river corridor parcel could still be created, with county departments responsible for managing them.
“Custom zoning standards for mobile homes would be required in order to maintain as many current residents in place as possible,” the documents state. “The resulting housing lots could be subdivided into individual lots to be sold to current homeowners or sold as a single parcel to be owned in a co-operative model.”
Great care would need to be taken to develop a transition plan that allows the reset to occur over time, “to honor the investment of existing residents and to transition to meeting Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines,” the documents say.
If option 1 is chosen, the next step would be an individual inspection of units to test their ability to be relocated.
Option 2: “No net loss”
The documents state that housing insecurity is one of the top public health issues in Pitkin County. “In recognition of that fact, the county moved to address the [private development] threat to Phillips homeowners,” the documents say.
The county does not identify the Phillips location as ideal for creating affordable housing, according to the documents. Still, the land was purchased in order to preserve as many existing housing units as possible within APCHA guidelines.
“A core goal of the acquisition is to maintain the number of units at the site and to create security for current and future owners of mobile homes at the site,” the documents state. “While the county cannot guarantee that this will work for every current [Phillips unit owner], there is a commitment to keeping the community housing balance whole.”
However, that commitment has to be balanced with the environmental, social and financial realities of the site in order to plan an overall sustainable future for the community, the documents say. “Maintaining affordability, increasing safety and addressing property issues will require relocation or replacement of some homes and investment of funds from the county’s housing fund.”
Accommodating the existing units will require substantial and expensive improvements to infrastructure at the site. A new wastewater facility, new water system and a new road into the hillside agricultural field upstream from the units will be required.
New lots would be created in the sunnier portion of the site and sized to accommodate double-wide manufactured homes, allowing for a greater variety of household sizes. Impacts to the winter habitat can be minimized, the documents state, by prohibiting dogs and offering seasonal closures to uphill trails.
Displaced homeowners who qualify under APCHA guidelines will have the first right of refusal for placing manufactured homes on the new lots, according to the documents.
“The river corridor can still be preserved and offered to other county departments for rehabilitation and public improvements appropriate to the sensitive nature of the site and the potential for flooding. The remaining agricultural fields include valuable wildlife habitat that might be of interest for open-space preservation,” the documents add.
Option 3: “The village”
The third option expands the housing footprint to as many as 118 units on both sides of the river and acknowledges the dire need for more affordable housing in the county.
“Pitkin County’s economy continues to grow faster than workforce housing,” the documents say. “Our county exports its workforce housing issue to other regional communities, who are now dealing with their own affordability challenges. Our desire to honor the commitment of retired employees to age-in-place will add to a growing gap between employment and housing.”
According to the documents, the net deficit in housing for the Aspen and Snowmass Village areas for households earning less than 160 percent of area median income is expected to increase to 5,200 units by 2027.
“It is unsustainable to continue to enjoy the fruits of a robust economy while stressing families with longer drives, longer child-care hours and higher transportation costs due to our lack of available housing,” the documents state. “Eighty-six percent of residents and business owners between Aspen and Old Snowmass consider the lack of workforce housing to be either the most critical or one of the more serious problems in the region.”
The investment made to acquire the Phillips property was substantial — and the housing plan necessary to absorb that investment also needs to be substantial, the documents say, noting that the location provides convenient access to three Pitkin County employment centers: Aspen, Snowmass Village and Basalt.
Current residents of Phillips Trailer Park point out the convenience, by automobile, to employment in the upper valley and services and shopping in the midvalley, the documents say. Public transit is an issue: The Woody Creek Shuttle serves the hillside residents during high seasons, connecting with Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot. The shuttle does not run during the spring and fall off seasons.
“A critical mass of residents at Phillips will allow more of the interaction and mutual support that characterizes healthy communities,” the documents state. “A variety of housing types in the 118 units will welcome singles, couples, families and seniors. The increased population justifies investment in amenities for residents and may justify year-round transit service and/or school bus service to the site.”
The documents stress that while increased development of Phillips wouldn’t solve the county’s housing problem, “It is an indicator that we are willing to optimize the opportunities that present themselves to house our workforce while addressing public safety and flooding concerns.”