City Hall forks over thousands of documents | AspenTimes.com

City Hall forks over thousands of documents

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN City Hall has handed over thousands of pages of documents and e-mails to the lawyers who are suing public officials.Aspen City Attorney John Worcester said about 1,700 pages of documents and literally thousands of e-mails copied onto discs have been given to Garfield & Hecht PC, which is engaged in at least two lawsuits against City Hall.All five City Council members have relinquished their computers so files and any e-mail correspondence containing specific words could be retrieved. Information also has been retrieved from a half-dozen city staffers computers, including Worcesters.The law firm in June filed an open records request seeking every document and e-mail that contains the names of six developers and lawyers, as well as development applications filed over recent years and ordinances relating to preserving historic buildings and the Aspen Area Community Plan.City Councilman Steve Skadron said his Macintosh laptop, which he conducts his private business from, was given to the citys information technology (IT) department for more than a business day. Because his computer is a Mac, a specialist had to be hired to translate the information to the citys system, which uses PCs.Skadron is now sifting through 1,500 pages of e-mails that have been printed out, determining what is personal and what is city-related.The kicker to this is that I was recused, Skadron said of the public hearings concerning the redevelopments of the Wienerstube Restaurant and Cooper Street Pier building, which are the subjects of the lawsuits.So far, 300 hours of staff time in the IT department has been devoted to retrieving the information, which has been a two-month process. The city is billing Garfield & Hecht $100 an hour for that work, which includes overhead. That amounts to $30,000, of which the law firm has paid half of, Worcester said.He added that other staff time related to the records request, including his, will not be billed to Garfield & Hecht. Its just part of his job, Worcester said.Its a waste of time and a fishing expedition, he said, adding the law firm is looking for evidence that shows some nefarious conduct by the council.There are other things that need my attention.Worcester has had to review every document to determine attorney-client privileges, and whether they are personal and relevant to the lawsuits.A privilege log has been created that lists every document reviewed and notes why it was withheld, Worcester said.The law firm will have to pay .25 cents per page for the documents relating to city ordinances and policies, which date back to the late 1970s, and fill up about six boxes, Worcester said. City Councilman Dwayne Romero said the city IT department had his computer for 24 hours. Mayor Mick Ireland said he bought a special drive that duplicates everything on his computer and provides a mirror image of whats on the machine.Of the 671 e-mails retrieved from Irelands computer under the search parameters, only one was determined relevant, Worcester said.Worcester said city officials and lawyers agreed upon specific key words to narrow the search. Those key words are a couple of pages long, and include words like Hecht, Wienerstube, or Cooper.It includes things like me asking someone to have breakfast at the Wienerstube, Romero said. City Councilman Jack Johnson said the IT department has had his computer for weeks. The search is 90 percent complete, Worcester said.The firms request asks for all documents containing the names of Andrew Hecht, his son Nikos Hecht, Ron Garfield and Joshua Saslove, all of whom are principals in JS Cooper Street LLC, which owns the Cooper Street Pier building. The firm also wants documents naming Stephen Marcus and John Provine, who are investors in 633 Spring II LLC, which controls the Wienerstube building, located at the corner of Spring Street and Hyman Avenue.The request also seeks documentation and e-mails related to several land-use applications filed with City Hall, including the redevelopment reviews of the Hotel Jerome, Stage 3, Cooper Street Pier, Wienerstube and a host of other buildings.They also want e-mails and documentation related to ordinances 30, 48 and 51, which all deal with regulations limiting what owners can do with properties that are least 30 years old.Garfield & Hecht currently are suing the city over the recent denials by the City Council to redevelop the Cooper Street Pier and Wienerstube buildings, arguing elected officials abused their discretion when they denied their plans to subdivide the properties.While developers said both projects met city regulations, the council said they didnt meet the Aspen Area Community Plan, a driving force behind the land-use code that refers to development fitting in with a neighborhood.But developers argue that because the applications were requests for subdivision approval, the City Council was limited on its review of the project and couldnt legally deny them on their merits related to land use.The council in March voted 3-0 to deny a subdivision approval for the 18,000-square-foot Wienerstube property. Council members said their primary reason for the denial was that the three-story building was out of character with the area and was too tall.The Wienerstubes land-use plan called for redeveloping the property into a 47,000-square-foot complex that would house the Wienerstube restaurant for at least 10 years, Ajax Bike and Sport, and four or five smaller affordable commercial spaces that would have faced the alley. The 12 affordable housing units and six free-market condos would have been on the upper levels along with additional commercial and office space.The council voted 3-1 in November to deny the Cooper Street Pier subdivision request. The redevelopment proposal had secured approval to demolish the existing three-story building and develop a four-story commercial and residential building, comprising 3,827 square feet of net leasable space divided between the basement, first and second floors. A 2,008-square-foot free-market condo would have taken up the third and fourth floors.csack@aspentimes.com

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