Castle Creek Trail project stalls
December 8, 2007
ASPEN ” A Pitkin County judge on Thursday held up an injunction on a proposed trail along Castle Creek.
The proposed $1.9 million trail would run along a 3,000-foot stretch of Castle Creek Road leading to the Aspen Music Festival and School campus. And Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials had the right to build it in a county right of way, officials said.
But on July 27, a group of landowners filed a request for the restraining order against Pitkin County and Thursday cleared the first hurdle to shutting the project down.
“This is just step one,” said Dick Butera, one of 13 Castle Creek residents who filed the lawsuit. “We’ll go to trial to get a complete injunction.”
Butera is frustrated that county officials don’t just hold a public hearing, he said, and called the legal wrangling a “silly, silly exercise wasting everybody’s time and money.”
“Are they afraid of something?” Butera asked of the county board.
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Butera is frustrated that county open space officials held little or no public process before dedicating some $2 million in public money to a trail that will only be used in summer months.
And Butera said his own study of the road traffic showed just a handful of students walk the stretch each day, and that is not worth shelling out county funds and knocking down trees in the picturesque area.
“I’d like to buy them a bus for $50,000,” Butera said, adding that a seasonal bus program would not only better serve students but would save important Castle Creek scenery.
“If [the county commissioner holds] a public hearing and hear all the facts, we think they’ll vote against it,” Butera said.
But one county commissioner said it’s too late for that.
“I think we’re going to go back to court,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley. “The Castle Creek people have crossed the Rubicon.”
Owsley admitted that neighbors of the proposed project have a gripe about the process of making the trail.
“They have a very good argument, and I understand their disappointment in the county. That’s probably justified,” Owsley said.
Even though open space officials weren’t required to go through a public process, Owsley said it would have been the best way to go about it.
“That was not right. I wouldn’t have done it that way,” Owsley said.
But, once the Castle Creek neighbors decided to sue, there was no going back, Owsley said.
“They chose the legal route, and that’s fine, but you can’t say, ‘Now let’s talk,'” Owsley said.
The injunction, Owsley said, sets a bad precedent for Pitkin and other counties by allowing residents to make determinations on a public right of way.
“We don’t want people being able to have temporary injunctions,” Owsley said. “We really feel that we have the right to do work in a public right of way.”
And in the end, Owsley said that’s the real issue.
Pitkin County Open Space officials would not comment on the case.
“My position is we don’t want to win or lose,” Butera said. “We just want a fair trial with open-minded commissioners.”
And in the end, Butera said it’s about the cost-benefit of the trail.
The preliminary injunction on construction will likely be followed by further hearings in coming months, Owsley said.