Lawsuit doesn’t stop development plan | AspenTimes.com

Lawsuit doesn’t stop development plan

John Colson

The city is moving ahead with its plans to build three affordable-housing units near the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, despite a lawsuit aiming to invalidate the process in use to plan the project.City Attorney John Worcester told members of the Convenience and Welfare of the Public committee Thursday not to worry about a lawsuit ACES neighbor Jonathan Lewis, a veteran of past battles with the city, filed last week.The lawsuit, filed in district court, asks a judge to rule that the city “abused its discretion and exceeded its jurisdiction” when it voted to use the COWOP process in its ongoing bid to swap land leases with ACES and in its move to “retroactively approve” a 1997 development plan for employee housing ACES built.The city is working on a scheme to swap 40-year leases with ACES, under which ACES would lease to the city its existing parking lot just off Puppy Smith Street, and the city would lease to ACES what is known as the Puppy Smith parcel a short distance away. The city would build affordable housing on the old parking lot, and a new parking lot for ACES would be built on the old Puppy Smith parcel.The 1997 development approval, which designated ACES as a “Specially Planned Area” and led to the construction of several housing units, was never formally codified by the filing of the necessary plats, city officials have admitted. But the city believes it can fix that oversight by folding retroactive approvals into the COWOP process on the lease swap.The COWOP process is a special type of review for projects deemed to be in the public’s interest. Such projects do not undergo the city’s normal land-use review process, but the COWOP committee studies the project plans and makes a recommendation to the City Council about how to proceed.City planner Joyce Allgaier, who provides staff support to the COWOP committee, asked Worcester what the committee should do in light of Lewis’ lawsuit.Worcester advised the committee in person Thursday to “ignore it.” He said his reading of the issues involved is that the city has done nothing wrong. Plus, he said, the city has not yet been “served” with the lawsuit, so in effect the suit has not legally started yet.Worcester said he believes Lewis filed suit to “preserve his option” to really sue the city depending on the outcome of the COWOP process, adding, “I don’t think we will be served till after you all are done with your process” and the City Council has received the COWOP recommendation and acted on it.