BOCC split over Stillwater-access vote
February 28, 2002
Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield cast aside his concerns about being a good neighbor Tuesday and voted in favor of proceeding with an affordable-housing project on Aspen’s east side.
Hatfield struggled with the fact that access to the Stillwater affordable-housing project will run through the neighboring lot, owned by Jessica Benedict-Gordon.
Benedict-Gordon is the daughter of Fritz Benedict, one of the town’s most active developers from the 1950s through the late 1980s. Benedict donated a 4-acre lot at the Stillwater subdivision to the county shortly before his death 1992.
The land is located directly across the Roaring Fork River from the Knollwood and Mountain Valley neighborhoods. A condition of the gift was that the land be used for affordable housing.
Benedict-Gordon has expressed opposition to the county’s plans for developing a 17-unit complex with one- and three-bedroom condominiums. She claims that the driveway to the county’s housing would run close to the area she would like to develop on her land. She also claims her parents never intended for the county to build more than one or two units on the land.
Two county commissioners, Shellie Roy and Patti Clapper, were willing to set the project back several weeks, and perhaps months, in order to redesign the project and move the driveway off Benedict-Gordon’s land.
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Roy in particular wanted to be a “good neighbor” to Benedict-Gordon. And she took encouragement from the fact that Benedict-Gordon’s attorney, Nick McGrath, said they wanted to “keep talking” about possible solutions.
Two other commissioners, Mick Ireland and Dorothea Farris, were not willing to surrender the easement, which runs directly along the property line separating the county land from Benedict-Gordon’s. They favored proceeding with construction as soon as possible.
“The Benedicts granted an easement, now they’re saying they don’t want us to use it,” Farris pointed out. “There are a lot of deed restrictions and conditions that we’re living with out there, too.”
For much of Tuesday’s debate, Hatfield seemed to be leaning toward the Clapper-Roy position. He came up with several suggestions for redesigning the layout of the five buildings that will house the condominiums, but all presented problems. Moving the driveway onto the county land would require significantly more grading, architects told Hatfield.
“I personally think the easement sustains the project,” Ireland said. “Besides, we’ve been generous about offering solutions without response.”
County Attorney John Ely told the commissioners that his communications with McGrath had gone unanswered until he received a letter Monday from the longtime local attorney saying Benedict-Gordon wanted to talk some more.
“Delay is a decision. Not making a decision is an action,” Farris said.
That seemed to be the comment that made Hatfield’s mind up. “I’m not going to go in between with this,” he said. “I’m with Mick and Dorothea – we’re going to go for it.”
Troy Rayburn, from the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, said the final drawings on the project should be ready by early April. The bidding process is expected to take a month. The commissioners said they would like to see the project get under way by early May.
It remains to be seen whether Benedict-Gordon will sue to stop construction of the driveway through her land, although she has indicated at past meetings with the commissioners that she does not intend to take the county to court.
Whether Tuesday’s decision will provoke a lawsuit from Stewart and Linda Resnick is also unclear. The Resnicks, who live in an 18,000-square-foot mansion about a half-mile from the county land, have filed notice of their intent to sue, but have yet to submit a brief to the court. Their attorney could not be reached yesterday for comment.