Boomerang neighbors file lawsuit to stop development
ASPEN – Opponents of the Boomerang affordable housing complex filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court challenging the recent Aspen City Council decision to move the project forward.The lawsuit claims a lack of due process concerning details the city’s Community Development Department drafted just a few hours before the July 25 public hearing and final vote on the issue. It also states that the council “abused its discretion and exceeded its jurisdiction” by rezoning the West Hopkins Avenue property where the 40-unit development would be located. The lawsuit asks for a court declaration that the ordinance allowing the Boomerang project is “void and unenforceable.” The plaintiffs are neighbors of the property: Staspen LLP, represented by Steve Goldenberg of 430 W. Hopkins Ave.; Daniel Verner of 432 W. Hopkins Ave.; and the Christiana Aspen Condominium Association. Defendants named in the suit are: Aspen FSB-ABR LLC, the Delaware company developing the project; the city of Aspen; and the four members of the City Council, along with Mayor Mick Ireland.City Attorney John Worcester declined comment on the lawsuit Thursday afternoon, saying he hadn’t read it because the city had yet to be served. Attempts to reach Goldenberg and Verner by phone were unsuccessful.Steve Stunda, one of the partners in the project and the local representative for the development company, described the suit as “frivolous.” He said it marks one of many attempts over nearly a year to disrupt the approval process for his initiative.”The lawsuit is without merit; it’s just another delay tactic organized by Steve Goldenberg, who doesn’t want employee housing in his neighborhood,” Stunda said.The lawsuit mentions the controversy surrounding Section 7, a late addition to the ordinance written on the day of the final public hearing on the Boomerang issue. The section detailed rules for a pre-sales effort that would have allowed local employers to purchase some of the units and then rent or sell them to workers in need of housing.Confusion over the addition to the ordinance led critics to ask for another delay in the process. They charged that the new section meant a lack of due process, given that they hadn’t time to study its details.But during the meeting, Stunda said he wasn’t necessarily tied to the new section and plans for the pre-sales effort aimed at local employers. The issue seemingly was resolved when he and city staff scrapped the section.”The language [in Section 7] didn’t come out until three or four hours before the public hearing, and the folks jumped on that as if it were germane to the ordinance itself, and it really isn’t,” Stunda said. “The ordinance was about passing the number of units and the land use.”Given that the section was deleted, the plaintiffs have no basis to contend that they were denied due process, he said. Since November, opponents have attended every meeting on the proposal at the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council level, and have had more than enough opportunities to air their concerns to officials, Stunda said. The process leading up to the council’s decision was fair and typical of the back-and-forth involved in negotiations for major developments, he said.”There were eight public hearings over 11 months, with [opponents] speaking the majority of the time,” Stunda said. “I barely got to speak at all.”At the behest of the City Council, P&Z commissioners and neighbors, Stunda’s project has gone through several changes and downsizings. The initial plan last year called for 54 units and a single four-story building. The plan approved last month allows 40 units covering about 39,000 square feet in three buildings, with two three-story buildings and one building using part of the old Boomerang Lodge.Stunda already had city approval, which he obtained in 2006, for a much larger lodge building on the site. The weakened economy and the city’s creation of a financial incentive program for private developers who build affordable housing led his group to change its plans for the property, which lies between Fourth and Fifth streets on West Hopkins Avenue, next to a pedestrian bikeway.During the first few months of debate, neighbors complained of the impact of more cars within an area where parking already was tight. Stunda addressed the issue by paying for a parking study that suggested that the effect of the additional cars on the neighborhood would be minimal. He also agreed to a council suggestion that a few of the units be “car-free,” meaning the owners would not be allowed to park a car within city limits.After the criticism over parking plans failed to gain traction at the council level, opponents attacked the project on other grounds. Concerns about the monolithic design and the sheer size of the development led Stunda and his architects to break the project into three separate buildings, delete a planned fourth floor and reduce the number of units.”I’ve made a lot of modifications along the way,” Stunda said. He added that while the lawsuit lacks merit and may not get very far, it could have an impact on his group’s ability to secure financing for construction, which is estimated to cost about $15 million. He said he has been working toward a starting date of May 2012, with completion a year email@example.com
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