Cooper Street Pier plan shot down
November 14, 2007
ASPEN ” Cooper Street Pier won’t be knocked down anytime soon, now that the City Council has shot down a proposal to redevelop the building.
The council voted 3-1 on Tuesday to reject an application to subdivide the property, which is needed to construct a mixed-use building.
Council members said the project doesn’t meet the goals of the Aspen Area Community Plan (AACP), specifically that it doesn’t provide enough affordable housing.
The decision came despite a legal threat levied by the property owners’ attorney, David Lenyo of Garfield and Hecht, who filed a 28-page legal brief with the City Council in October. The “memorandum of law” lays out several arguments that Lenyo’s clients have a right to redevelop one of Aspen’s oldest eating and drinking establishments.
The legal document reads like a textbook on the parameters of municipal government, routinely pointing out that City Council has no authority, jurisdiction or legal basis to deny the Cooper Street Pier project.
While he said it wasn’t the basis for his vote against the project, the legal brief didn’t sit well with Mayor Mick Ireland.
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“I don’t think it was helpful to submit a 28-page brief that tells the council to do this or else,” he said, adding that “I will fight it to the last tax dollar” if the property owner, Joshua Saslove, decides to sue. “This council is not going to be dictated on what it’s going to do.”
Lenyo told the council the brief was meant only to be informational and to help in the decision-making process.
“We did our best to address the factual and legal issues in our application,” Lenyo said, adding it wasn’t meant to dictate how the council should vote. He also added that in his decades of experience, he has never experienced “such a hostile response.”
Jim True, special counsel for City Hall, said Tuesday that he had advised the council on how to respond to the legal brief in a confidential memo. He declined to say what his advice was.
The proposal was to redevelop the building into four stories with mixed-use commercial space and a free-market condo. It’s unknown whether the commercial space would have been replaced with a restaurant and bar, or a high-end retail store.
The plan called for demolishing the existing three-story building and developing a four-story commercial and residential building, comprising 3,827 square feet of net leasable space divided between the basement, first and second floors. A 2,008-square-foot free-market condo would take up the third and fourth floors.
The project won the approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission, the Historic Preservation Commission and city staff.
Councilman Jack Johnson voted against the project, saying it would create unnecessary public costs related to how the building was designed and how it would have been spatially divided.
He said the project fails to meet the general requirements of the AACP because it would generate traffic and impact the transportation system. Johnson argued the businesses that would have been located there would have produced more employees than would be housed.
“It will require people to take the bus or drive their car,” he said. “And then it will be the business of the city of Aspen to build [housing] for them.”
Ireland voted against the application because it doesn’t meet the general goals of the AACP, which is to house employees in the city ” not in communities downvalley.
The project’s planner, Mitch Haas, pointed out that the development would decrease the amount of existing square footage and wouldn’t increase the number of employees required.
The application before the City Council on Tuesday was to subdivide the property so that legal interests in the building could be separated.
Lenyo argued that because it was a request for subdivision approval, the City Council is limited on its review of the project and can’t legally deny it on its merits related to land use.
A good portion of the legal brief suggests that just because some council members don’t believe the project meets the objectives of the AACP doesn’t mean they can deny it ” a subdivision request does not fall under land-use code regulations.
But Johnson said it’s not the act of subdividing but the result of it that produces a negative impact on the community. Ireland said the totality of the project’s impact is what’s under scrutiny, not the subdivision itself.
City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss also voted to deny the project. Steve Skadron voted to deny the redevelopment as a former Planning and Zoning commissioner; he recused himself from reviewing the project as a city councilman.
Councilman Dwayne Romero cast the sole vote in favor the project.
Saslove declined to comment on the vote or what his next move will be. Cooper Street Pier is expected to remain open through the winter.
Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.