Gravel roofs for Stillwater? |

Gravel roofs for Stillwater?

The county and the housing authority appear to have found their way around one of many roadblocks set up by a multimillionaire who doesn’t want affordable housing in his back yard.

And it isn’t a pretty sight.

The Pitkin County commissioners appear ready to approve a gravel roof on three of the five buildings planned as part of the Stillwater affordable housing project. Stillwater is located in Aspen’s east end, across the Roaring Fork River from the Mountain Valley neighborhood.

The county owns a four-acre lot at Stillwater that was donated in the early 1990s by developer Fritz Benedict, who specified that the property be used for affordable housing. After Benedict’s death, his wife, Fabi, added strict conditions to the property, including the use of all natural building materials.

Gravel roofs, made of several layers of gravel and tar, both naturally occurring substances, are considered among the least attractive in existence. But in this case, gravel may comply with a Stillwater Homeowner Association requirement that any affordable housing be built with “natural” materials, such as wood or stone.

“It’s like a chip-and-seal road surface,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s director of public works. Pettet was speaking at a work session Tuesday with the county commissioners and representatives from Shaw Construction and the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.

The county commissioners are trying to make all the final decisions on the project so that construction can start this summer. Ed Sadler, the assistant city manager who oversees the housing authority, estimates delaying the project until next year will add about $650,000 to the cost of construction.

The commissioners’ first choice for Stillwater’s roof is metal, but neighbor Stewart Resnick has vetoed that. Gravel is now considered the only alternative.

Resnick, a multimillionaire who made his fortune in mail-order dishes adorned with pop stars and historical figures, has used a number of tactics to block the 17-unit project of one- and three-bedroom apartments. The total square footage of the project if built as planned would be about 24,000 square feet.

Stewart and Lynda Resnick spend a few months each year in the Aspen area in their 18,000-square-foot mansion, located about a half-mile from the Stillwater lot owned by the county. A large staff cares for the home throughout the year, and much of it is housed in the Shadowood Apartments, which Resnick also owns.

Although he doesn’t actually live near the county’s property, he does own a neighboring lot in the Stillwater subdivision and thus has some say over subdivision covenants and their application to the affordable housing project proposed next to his land.

So far, he has not allowed the housing authority to veer from the material limits in spite of several requests to do so. He has also filed a notice of his intent to sue Pitkin County to stop the project, so even if construction begins this year, it is likely Resnick will try to get a court injunction to stop work.

The commissioners had three roofing options to choose from yesterday.

Sadler’s top recommendation was to use specially treated wood shake shingles. He pointed out that properly treated wood shingles have fire resistance that is equal to that of standard asphalt shingles. The only difference is wood shake shingles are allowed at Stillwater but not allowed in the county code, while asphalt shingles are allowed in the code but not at Stillwater.

“Treated wood shake shingles have the same fire resistance as asphalt shingles,” Sadler said.

The commissioners weren’t willing to take on local fire officials who maintain all wood shake shingles are a fire hazard, no matter how they are treated.

Gravel was the commissioners’ second choice, and their third was to redesign the project so that all of the affordable housing is located far enough away from Resnick’s property line to get around the covenants. The material restrictions only apply when construction is within a certain distance of a neighbor’s lot, which is why only three of the five buildings at Stillwater would need to use gravel roofs.

“My stomach is churning that we’ve been put in this situation by a single property owner,” County Commissioner Jack Hatfield said.

As a property manager, Hatfield said he has had trouble with gravel roofs, but is willing to use them here if Resnick gives him no other choice.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is

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