Some elected officials representing the city of Aspen and Pitkin County said they support negotiating with embattled affordable-housing resident Lee Mulcahy, who is facing eviction from his Burlingame Ranch home.
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said this week that he has talked to Mulcahy in the past month about what the deed restriction affords him when he lists the million-dollar property.
“Nothing has been agreed to,” Peacock said. “My sense is that we are far apart.”
Mulcahy bought the lot at 53 Forge Road from the city for $150,000 in October 2006, and the city provided a subsidy of $189,500, plus waiving tap and building permit fees.
It’s unknown how much equity he has in the house he built with his family but he has a maximum resale price of $995,000, according to the deed restriction on the property.
Mulcahy has lost his four-year legal battle with APCHA in Pitkin County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals. The courts upheld APCHA’s position that Mulcahy was found out of compliance for not proving that he works in Pitkin County the required 1,500 hours a year.
As the case went through litigation, Mulcahy and his mother, who lives with him, said they would not leave the house and believe they will have to be forcefully removed.
Peacock said his involvement has been an attempt to ease tensions between the Mulcahys and local governments.
“We initiated a conversation with Lee and Sandy to see if there was a way to de-escalate an increasing escalated situation,” he said. “We were looking for a third rail here to see what’s fair to the public and to Lee before we go remove another person from their home.
“It’s never harmful to sit down and have a conversation.”
Acting separately are Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board chair John Ward and County Commissioner Kelly McNicolas Kury, who serves on the APCHA board as an alternate.
They’ve been in talks with Mulcahy about a settlement and finding a peaceful resolution.
As a neighbor of the Mulcahys in the city-developed Burlingame affordable housing subdivision across from Buttermilk, McNicholas Kury said she is approaching the situation in a sensitive manner.
“I’m sensitive to the emotional nature of Lee and his mom,” she said. “As an elected official, I take the eviction of someone from their home as a serious matter.”
So does Ward, who acted on his own but in a capacity as APCHA’s board chair, in negotiating with Mulcahy.
“We thought we could get a resolution for the good of Aspen and the housing program to not have a standoff,” Ward said. “My hope was to get to a number that he would capitulate.”
Ward said he thought about the precedent-setting aspect of negotiating with someone who has been found in violation of APCHA’s rules but felt that the Mulcahy eviction is a unique situation.
“Absolutely that is a concern, but it’s a one-time case and this was one last-ditch effort to get him out,” he said.
At Tuesday’s Aspen City Council meeting during public comment, Mulcahy said in the spirit of negotiating, similar single-family homes in the second phase of Burlingame employee-housing development sold for $1.3 million, suggesting his should, too.
He referenced the Fifth Amendment and that private property taken for public use without just compensation is a violation of due process.
Peacock said he and others are looking at the deed restriction on the property to see what’s allowable and equitable.
Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman, who is the county representative on the APCHA board, acknowledged that the appreciation and purchase price of Mulcahy’s home have been the topic of the discussion among county and housing program officials.
“There have been some conversations back and forth to diffuse a problem situation,” he said, adding the government isn’t “giving away the farm on this … we want a peaceful resolution without denigrating the program so we are exploring every opportunity. It’s worth a try.”
Aspen Mayor Torre said he was unaware of the ongoing conversations with Mulcahy and only knew that APCHA’s purchase of the property was being worked on.
Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said a previous idea that was floated to resolve the situation was to physically relocate the house but that effort was short-lived.
Relocating the house was an idea suggested by City Manager Sara Ott last summer, according to an email she wrote to APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdroksy on Jan. 22.
“Remember the last time I tried to come to you and (APCHA attorney Tom Smith) first regarding relocation of the house as an option?” she wrote suggesting that if there is another way to appease the Mulcahys, she’s been directed by Aspen City Council to pursue it. “It wasn’t an open respectful discussion of concerns and options from my perspective. It was a hard no. A member of your board felt there was another way — I wasn’t going to stop him from explaining his position to others. …”
Clapper said she has been briefed on the recent talks.
“I support some sort of negotiating with the Mulcahys,” she said. “We have to make sure that there’s equity for both sides and I’m not sure that’s possible.”