Lewis, Aspen do battle again | AspenTimes.com

Lewis, Aspen do battle again

John Colson

A local man who recently battled with city officials and some residents over his plans to build a pool overlooking the Hallam Lake Nature Preserve is suing the city over its proposal to put housing on land next to the preserve.Jonathan Lewis, who earlier this year won permission to build a pool behind his house at 414 N. First St., is suing the city, City Council and all of the individual council members, but his goal is not to squeeze money from the city’s coffers.Rather, he said on Thursday, he wants to ensure that there is more public discussion about a planned deal between the city and the organization that manages the Hallam Lake preserve, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.The suit, filed Thursday by attorney David Lenyo, focuses on a deal proposed between the city and ACES that is now being reviewed by the city’s COWOP (Convenience and Welfare of the Public) citizens’ committee.The deal would entail an exchange of property leases by the two entities, the result of which would be that ACES would get a new parking lot on a piece of dedicated city open space known as the Puppy Smith Parcel, across Puppy Smith Street from the U.S. Post Office. The city would use the old ACES parking lot, located near the ACES entrance gate, to build affordable housing for city employees.An earlier plan to build the housing on the Puppy Smith property was criticized for being too close to the Rio Grande Trail, and the swap proposal was conceived as an alternative.”I mean, we’re talking about housing on ACES,” declared Lewis angrily, adding that the lawsuit was “the only way that we could preserve the public’s ability to question some of the pieces of the procedure here.” He said the city seems to be ignoring its own history of resisting development in and around the preserve, including his pool proposal.The suit also claims that a 1997 land-use proceeding initiated by ACES – rezoning the preserve from “Agriculture/Forestry” to “Specially Planned Area” and allowing for construction of housing for ACES employees and visiting professors – is currently invalid. That’s because the final enabling documentation for the zoning change was not filed within the legal deadline, according to the lawsuit.The city has recently moved to expand the COWOP review process to include a belated filing of the necessary plats for the 1997 rezoning and development approvals, a move that Lewis’ lawsuit seeks to block.”It gets complicated,” conceded Lewis, who admitted he does not entirely understand all the legal ramifications of the suit. His attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday.Lewis is a member of the COWOP committee that has been looking at the proposed deal, he said, adding, “I know there’s a lot of well-intentioned and hard-working people, whom I respect very much” who are working on the project.And, he continued, “We all understand the importance of housing … the need … even for this particular, nonlottery housing,” a reference to the proposal that the housing be for city employees only.”We just don’t think it’s right, and in fact don’t think it’s legal,” he said. “I just think there needs to be a lot more discussion. It just doesn’t feel right.”City Attorney John Worcester and head planner Chris Bendon said they had not reviewed the suit and thus could not comment on it. ACES Executive Director Tom Cardamone said he was unaware of the lawsuit and also could not comment.Cardamone, who is on the COWOP committee, said it has two more meetings scheduled before it is to make a recommendation to the City Council regarding the advisability of proceeding with the deal.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com