Aspen, Cooper Street developers in stalemate
ASPEN – City Hall stands behind its position that elected officials acted appropriately when they denied the redevelopment of Aspen’s Cooper Street Pier building, according to court documents filed this week. Assistant city attorney Jim True on Monday filed an answer to a lawsuit levied by JS Cooper Street LLC, headed by Joshua Saslove, and a host of other LLCs controlled by such Aspen businessmen as Ron Garfield and Nikos Hecht. The LLCs own the Cooper Street building, for decades home to a bar and restaurant, which they are trying to redevelop. In a lawsuit filed in December, the LLCs allege that City Council abused its discretion when it voted to deny an application that would allow the property to be subdivided, a key aspect of the redevelopment plan.Not so, says the citys answer to the complaint. The six-page document asks that the complaint be dismissed and attorney fees be paid by the plaintiffs.The citys response says little, arguing that the land-use code and the record of public officials speak for themselves, and no further response is required.It appears that a settlement offer of $150,000 offered last week by David Lenyo, of the Aspen law firm Garfield & Hecht, wont be accepted by the City Council, whose members discussed the lawsuit behind closed doors. Sources close to the lawsuit said the City Council balked at the offer and money isnt going to solve the legal dispute.True declined to comment on the specifics of the suit but said the two sides are still looking at their options.We are continuing settlement discussions, he said. Lenyo, who represents the buildings owners, had offered $150,000 on top of $309,000 developers would have been required to pay in affordable housing mitigation.The suit came almost a month after the majority of the City Council voted to deny plans to subdivide the property. The lawsuit names the city of Aspen and its five elected council members as defendants.The suit asks the court to make the council’s decision null and void. It also asks the court to grant subdivision approval, and award the building’s owners costs and expenses related to the matter.In the next month, city officials will gather the minutes and transcripts of the public hearings when the City Council reviewed the development application to be entered into the court file. At issue is whether or not the city is required to include minutes from the Planning and Zoning Commission, which approved the project. True argues that its not required.Well let the court decide that, he said. The lawsuit alleges that because the application in question was a request for subdivision approval, the City Council was limited on its review of the project and can’t legally deny it on its merits related to land use.And because the council rejected the application based on land-use issues, it exceeded its jurisdiction and acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, the lawsuit alleges.Council members who voted against the project said it doesn’t meet the goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan specifically, that it doesn’t provide enough affordable housing. Councilman Dwayne Romero cast the lone vote in favor of the project. Because Steve Skadron voted to deny the redevelopment as a former Planning and Zoning commissioner, he recused himself from reviewing the project as a city councilman.Lenyo filed a 28-page brief with the City Council in October warning the council it would be overstepping its bounds if it denied the project. The “memorandum of law” laid out several arguments explaining why Lenyo’s clients have a right to redevelop one of Aspen’s oldest eating and drinking establishments.The lawsuit argues that the city of Aspen exceeded its jurisdiction because it denied the subdivision application based on design and employee housing requirements, which are under the purview of the land-use code.The 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 take up the third and fourth floors.The lawsuit also points out that there is no provision in the land-use code that authorizes the City Council to approve or deny subdivision approval based on the number of employee housing units in the development.Pitkin County District Judge James Boyd is presiding over the firstname.lastname@example.org
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