Feuding neighbors can’t find ‘Common Ground’ in Aspen
December 10, 2013
A long-running feud between neighbors at the Independence Place housing area, also known as the "Common Ground," spilled into a Pitkin County courtroom on Monday.
The court proceeding involved a restraining-order request initiated by Elizabeth Lasko, 39, against Rachel Polver, 37. The two women own units with facing front doors, separated by a sidewalk. On the morning of Dec. 2, Aspen police arrested Polver at her home and jailed her on a misdemeanor harassment charge following a call from Lasko.
But Polver says that she is the one who has been harassed, for the past few years, by Lasko and three neighbors who are said to have taken Lasko's side in the dispute.
A few Independence Place neighbors were on hand to supply witness testimony, but no statements were sought at Monday's hearing. A few minutes into the discussion, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely recused herself from the case when it was disclosed that one of the potential witnesses, Roya Beklik, is a court clerk. A status conference was scheduled for Dec. 18 in Glenwood Springs in front of Garfield County Court Judge Paul Metzger. A temporary restraining order previously issued by Fernandez-Ely will remain in place until Metzger settles the issue.
“It’s one of those things that instead of people being able to sit down and talk through something, everybody goes on the verbal attack.”
Common Ground resident and board member
Lasko alleges that at 10 a.m. on Dec. 2, she was leaving her unit and encountered Polver in the walkway. Lasko's statement claims that Polver called her a "f—ing piece of shit" while noting that Lasko's dog was off-leash. Previous disputes between the two women, sometimes involving other neighbors, have involved Polver's dog.
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"I did have a dog off-leash, under voice and sight control," Lasko wrote in her official complaint filed with the court. "I continued down the sidewalk to my car as she yelled profanities and her dog urinated in my yard. I got to my car and when she returned to her vehicle, parked next to me, she continued cussing at me, repeating herself (and adding), 'No one in this town is your friend… ."
Lasko claims she was the target of similar verbal assaults during three days in mid-October. Lasko later said in the complaint that the "physical threat is not specific, but Rachel's approach and body language imply threat. I feel physically threatened and fear and avoid contact. My mental health suffers."
Soon after the Dec. 2 encounter, Lasko phoned police, which resulted in Polver's arrest.
Polver fully denies that she is a threat to Lasko and says she is the victim of "an extended campaign of oppression and harassment," according to court documents. On Friday, Polver's attorney, Tim Whitsitt, of Carbondale, filed an answer to the allegations, as well as a counterclaim and third-party claim against Lasko and three neighbors — Beklik, Michael Sladdin and Catherine Lutz Sladdin — as well as the Common Ground Housing Association. Beklik and Michael Sladdin serve on the three-member homeowners association's board of directors, according to his filing.
Whitsitt's document states that a restraining order is difficult to enforce because the two neighbors live within 10 yards of each other and share a parking lot. In addition, it says that "Lasko herself has been the aggressor in past confrontations between Lasko and Polver and is not entitled to the relief requested as a result of her own aggressive behaviors initiating such confrontations."
"The campaign (of harassment) has been advanced by the filing of false police reports about Polver by various of the individuals named, including Beklik, Lasko and Catherine Sladdin," the counterclaim states. "The campaign has been advanced by the filing of and prosecution of false claims and select enforcement of violations by Polver of the dog regulations of the (homeowners association)."
The homeowners association has violated provisions of state law, according to Whitsitt's filing. It suggests that association business has been conducted in a sloppy manner, sometimes without the authority of the full board; that the board has failed to properly document decisions; that association members have not been treated equally; that proper meeting protocol has not been observed; and that association records have not been preserved.
The board also has been negligent in responding to Polver's request to repair "serious physical defects" in the association-owned exterior of Polver's unit, the claim says.
The claim further alleges that Beklik, Lasko and the Sladdins have filed various false claims against Polver and her dog "as well as forged documents with the (Aspen post office) in order to gain an advantage over Polver and further harass her."
In addition, "Polver has suffered damages, including physical damage to her real property, damage to her reputation in the community, emotional distress and damages, and other incidental and consequential damages as a result of the campaign carried on and the actions of Beklik, Lasko, the Sladdins and the (homeowners association) in furtherance of the campaign," the claim adds.
Whitsitt also has filed a motion asking that the entire case, including the restraining-order request and counterclaims, be transferred out of county court and into Pitkin County District Court.
Marcia Goshorn, who sits on the Common Ground board with Beklik and Michael Sladdin, said the conflict has created considerable tension in the 21-unit Common Ground development. Goshorn wrote the development application for Common Ground that led to its construction about 20 years ago.
More than one person is at fault — the blame can't be laid at the feet of a single unit owner, she said. There also is a lot more to the story than a dispute over dogs being off-leash from time to time.
"It's one of those things that instead of people being able to sit down and talk through something, everybody goes on the verbal attack. And they all can cuss like sailors. I don't believe that any one person is in the wrong. Every one of them has their opinion and they're not willing to budge from it at all," Goshorn said.