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Centennial pursues smoking ban

ASPEN ” The governing board that oversees the Centennial condominiums in Aspen is moving forward with a property-wide smoking ban.

The homeowners’ association board of directors, which represents 92 condominium owners at Centennial, voted on Tuesday to have its attorney, Fred Peirce, draft language that bans smoking. The preliminary document will be reviewed by the board at its next meeting.

The board also seeks from Peirce legal advice on whether a ban is possible and if so, how it can be enforced. Current smokers may be grandfathered in but any new owner who buys a unit through the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority may be subject to the ban, if adopted.

The move, which is viewed by many as precedent setting because it will dictate what people can and cannot do on their own property, has some homeowners crying foul.

“If you are going to tell me what or any homeowner can do on their own property, you are infringing on my civil liberties and it’s unconstitutional,” said Alison Danforth, a Centennial condo owner. “You are going to have one hell of a lawsuit.”

Ed Cross, president of the homeowner’s association, said the ban is prompted by a safety concern and a person’s right to live in peace without worrying about the negative effects of smoking, including burning down a home.

“It’s better to put the ban in and let it get challenged in court,” he said. “You can be so psychologically disturbed by the potential of a fire that your right of quiet enjoyment is interrupted.”

Cross was referring to a ruling made by a judge in Golden, Colo. recognizing that smoking in multi-family units interrupts the quiet enjoyment of one’s home for others. That ruling ” based on a homeowner’s association that banned smoking in a four-plex ” paved the way for the argument that a smoking ban could be warranted, Cross said. The Centennial condominium association last year recognized the quiet enjoyment argument in its rules and regulations.

“We are on solid ground because there is a precedent,” Cross said.

The idea for a smoking ban at Centennial was prompted after two recent cigarette-caused fires broke out there and at another Aspen affordable-housing complex. Residents began e-mailing Cross expressing concern for their safety, he said.

On June 10, a Castle Ridge apartment building burned to the ground after a smoldering cigarette was left in potting soil on a balcony. The fire left 17 people homeless and killed a cat. Subsequently, Castle Ridge, which is owned privately and comprised of rental units, has instituted a smoking ban on the entire property.

Less than two weeks after the Castle Ridge fire, another smoldering cigarette was left in a flower box at Centennial, but the fire was extinguished before it caused any damage.

And last year, a cigarette was left in a flower pot on a second-floor balcony at Centennial, causing extensive damage to a doorway, as well as the building’s siding and common area.

“Maybe you ought to outlaw flower pots,” Danforth joked, adding if a ban goes into effect and is enforced on a complaint basis as suggested, it will pit residents against one another. “What, are we going to go back to the USSR with neighbors spying on each other?”

Centennial board member Andrea Karson, who doesn’t support a smoking ban, said she wants all property owners at Centennial informed of the potential outlawing of cigarette smoking before the homeowner’s association votes on the issue.

Some board members say an informal vote of all property owners through a ballot should occur before a ban is instituted. The board agreed to resident Charlie Matthews’ suggestion of posting fliers warning people of all fire dangers during the summer.

Board member Carol Pasternak supported letting the membership know what the association is considering but isn’t so sure a ban is necessary, given the civil liberty issue.

“We are adults and we have rights,” she said.

Albert Przybylski, a property owner at Centennial, supported a ban on the entire property.

“You will make people unhappy but they are in the minority,” he said.

Cross and others who support the ban have the backing of Aspen Fire Marshall Ed VanWalraven, who said cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities in the United States.

Eric Pekkala, a Centennial owner who smokes, said the idea of a ban is ridiculous and won’t prevent fires from occurring. Candles, incense and any open flame also pose dangers ” as do irresponsible people.

“You put this label on somebody … I live by some drunks and so they might burn my house down if they are drunk,” he argued. “The precedent is going to be us. This is going to be a big deal. This is something that should not be taken lightly.”

csack@aspentimes.com


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