City of Aspen’s lawsuit against penthouse owners goes to trial today

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

A trial dealing with the city of Aspen’s lawsuit against two owners of an East Hopkins Avenue penthouse and the developer that sold them their property begins today at the Garfield County Courthouse.

Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols will preside over the bench trial, which is scheduled to last six days. Because other matters are scheduled for the two courtrooms in the Pitkin County Courthouse today, the trial’s start was moved to Glenwood Springs.

In July 2013, the city filed a lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court against the penthouse owners and the developer of the three-story 308 E. Hopkins Ave. building, alleging that renters of affordable-housing units in the building were being barred illegally from using the front entrance, east stairway and main elevator.

The complaint lists as defendants Michael Sedoy and Natalia Shvachko, owners of the free-market unit on the second and third floor of the building; and JW Ventures LLC, the building owner, which received city approval in 2007 to redevelop the property. JW Ventures sold the second- and third-floor spaces to Sedoy and Shvachko in 2011 for $6.2 million, according to court documents. Sedoy and Shvachko merged the two spaces and moved into the unit in November 2012.

The lawsuit states that in 2009, JW Ventures was issued a building permit from the city for its construction plan. As part of that permit, the developer was required to meet accessibility and Americans with Disabilities Act requirements of the International Building Code.

When Sedoy and Shvachko obtained title to their property in 2011 from JW Ventures, however, the deed excluded “various encumbrances and restrictions, including the terms, conditions, provisions, agreements and obligations” specified by the city ordinance and subdivision agreement that allowed the developer to pursue its plans, the suit says.

The building had been constructed, the complaint says, “with access to all units of the building provided through the front entrances to the building having access to East Hopkins Street and the public sidewalk.” This included access by stairs and elevator to a basement-level restaurant, which at the time was Syzygy, and to affordable-housing units on the second level, according to the complaint.

Sedoy and Shvachko, the complaint reads, “assumed control” of the front entrance, east stairway and elevator of the building and denied use to the affordable-housing tenants and the restaurant.

“The only access left to (the affordable-housing tenants and their guests) is from the alley behind the building and into the west stairway, an access which is the service entry (for restaurants in the building), adjacent to the service-trash utility area serving the building, and which is not accessible under the International Building Code and accessibility policy,” the complaint states.

Through court filings, Sedoy and Shvachko have countered that city officials approved the entrance plan and that the building’s other tenants have access to a service elevator. They have claimed that they purchased the unit based on an understanding that the elevator, hallway and front door would be theirs to use exclusively.

The couple made headlines in late 2012 and much of 2013 when they filed dozens of complaints with the Aspen Police Department and the city’s Environmental Health Department over noise from neighboring bars and restaurants. Aspen Brewing Co. was issued a citation and fought it during an Aspen Municipal Court jury trial in January. The jury sided with the brewery.

Sedoy and Shvachko also have been the target of liens filed by contractors who claim they weren’t paid for services to the penthouse.