Judge to visit disputed building | AspenTimes.com

Judge to visit disputed building

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

Pitkin County District Judge Gail Nichols will make a site visit today to the mixed-use structure at 308 E. Hopkins Ave. as part of a civil trial to determine whether two penthouse owners are violating laws by denying accessibility rights to other tenants in the building.

Nichols and attorneys in the case scheduled the site visit just prior to opening statements in the six-day trial, which got underway Tuesday morning in the Garfield County Courthouse. Following the site visit at 9 a.m. today, the trial will resume in the Pitkin County Courthouse.

In July 2013, the city filed a lawsuit in Pitkin County District Court against the penthouse owners, Michael Sedoy and Natalia Shvachko, and also the developer of the three-story building, JW Ventures LLC. The lawsuit alleges that renters of affordable-housing units in the building are being barred from using the front entrance, east stairway and main elevator.

JW Ventures received city approval in 2007 to redevelop the property and sold 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, the city issued JW Ventures a building permit for its construction plan. As part of that permit, the developer was required to meet certain requirements of the International Building Code, including aspects of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

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, according to the suit.

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Sedoy and Shvachko have countered in court filings 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 main elevator, hallway and front door would be theirs to use exclusively.

During opening remarks, Assistant City Attorney Debbie Quinn named some of the witnesses who will be called to support the city's case, including Community Development Director Chris Bendon, Chief Building Official Steve Kanipe and other municipal employees.

"We will be presenting testimony from the three residents of the affordable-housing units (who will be) talking about what it's like to have an entrance to their home from an alley, next to a Dumpster, in basically what's a service entry," Quinn said. "But we're also going to have testimony from all the city witnesses about the policies behind various (municipal) code provisions and what the hardship would be for the city in the event that these defendants are allowed to ignore specific requirements of the (project) ordinance as well as the building code."

Other potential witnesses, including three members of JW Ventures, also may be called to testify for the city's case, Quinn said.

"We hope to show through these witnesses that (Sedoy and Shvachko) had an opportunity to know the facts, to know the law, and they didn't take advantage of that opportunity," she said.

One of the attorneys representing Sedoy and Shvachko, however, said the defense's case would boil down to "protection of private property rights" and instances of "broken promises."

The married couple would not have purchased the penthouse without the belief that they had a legal right to exclusive use of the elevator, the attorney said.

"The private use of that elevator was very important to them," he added.

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