Open space issues dog Puppy Smith
Concerns about proper use of open space could hamper a potential land swap between the city and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Those concerns are among several cited by ACES neighbors Peter and Jonathan Lewis in a lawsuit over the swap.The emphasis of the lawsuit is on whether the city violated the law in using a special approval process for essential public facilities to exempt the deal from standard land-use rules. But the lawsuit outlines several other problems with the swap because the city purchased its land with open space funds.In September, the Aspen City Council discussed the proposal to swap the ACES parking lot, behind the post office, with a city-owned lot on the opposite side of the street. If approved, the swap would allow the city to build three affordable housing units on what is now the ACES parking lot and move the lot to the city’s parcel on Puppy Smith Street.The suit contends that the city cannot “exchange” an open space parcel without voter approval. According to the suit, the city at one time intended to place a question on the ballot to do this, but it later withdrew the question “in order [to] pursue negotiations with ACES” for the swap.During the September council meeting, the parcel’s complicated history troubled Councilwoman Rachel Richards, the only member to vote against using the special process to further discussions about the swap.”I think that that history really needs to come out,” she said at the time. She also wanted to see more involvement by members of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and Councilman Torre agreed.In 2003, the City Council proposed building two affordable housing units on the Puppy Smith property. The plan, which would have resulted in the subdivision and sale of at least some of the property, was sent to voters as Referndum 2D. The council withdrew the proposal after opposition formed to defeat the measure. Opponents centered their objections to the 2003 plan on the fact that Puppy Smith had been purchased with open space funds. Because it was too late to take the proposal off the ballot, the votes on Refernedum 2D went uncounted.Another problem with the current proposal, the Lewis suit contends, is that a parking lot is not an appropriate use of open space.”No part of the Puppy Smith Parcel will be used as open space as defined by the Aspen Land Use Code,” the suit states. “Therefore, the parking lot will not be an ‘accessory use’ to the Puppy Smith Parcel as defined in the Aspen Land Use Code because such a use will not be secondary, supportive or subordinate to the principal use of the Puppy Smith Parcel.”A Sept. 11 memo from city staff to the council, however, states that the proposed gravel parking lot “has been determined to be accessory to the open space use … Therefore, Staff does not believe that the proposal to build a gravel parking lot on the open space parcel would require a public vote because it is accessory to the originally intended open space use of the parcel.”When the issue came up at the council meeting, Worcester noted that the “sacrosanct” Maroon Bells area dedicates some open space to parking.At the time, Torre told the council he was “concerned about holding this project up” but that he wanted “to make sure that there’s not a legal snafu in that regard.”He also noted, however, that the council is “not bound to any of the recommendations” of the special review committee.”It is just an advisory board to explore the possibilities,” he said. The council still maintains the right to deny approval to any development proposal that comes out of the process.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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