Pitco finds a creative solution at Stillwater
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The logjam of lawsuits, negotiations and indecision that have delayed construction of a highly anticipated affordable housing project finally fell apart yesterday.
The Pitkin County commissioners agreed to shrink the size of the Stillwater affordable housing project located just east of Aspen from 17 to 13 units, eliminating the most recent source of delay.
The commissioners directed the architect and housing office to rework plans for nine three-bedroom and four one-bedroom townhomes on a four-acre, county-owned lot across the Roaring Fork River from Mountain Valley.
The decision means neighbors in the Stillwater subdivision will no longer be able to use a covenant attached to the county’s property to thwart the project. It leaves a single lawsuit – which the county beat in district court – pending in the state court of appeals.
“Finally – it feels great,” said Troy Rayburn, a planner with the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority. Rayburn said people regularly ask him about Stillwater when they call the housing office, and for several years he hasn’t been able to report any progress whatsoever.
Stillwater’s attraction is its location and design. The county’s original plan had five buildings spread throughout the lot, which is bordered by undeveloped land and the Roaring Fork River, with large common areas and easy access to town via bus, bike or foot.
The project has been delayed for a number of reasons over the years, but the main source of the delay has been Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a couple who live about a half-mile away in an 18,000-square-foot mansion.
The Resnicks made their fortune partly through their ownership of The Franklin Mint, which uses television commercials to sell porcelain dishes adorned with historical and pop-culture icons.
Their lawsuit alleging violations of county and state land-use statutes was filed shortly after the project was originally approved in the winter of 2000. It was dismissed by a district court judge in Pitkin County.
County attorney John Ely said the appeal, which sat dormant for more than a year, is just now coming up for consideration by the appeals court.
The Resnicks have also used the homeowners association at Stillwater to enforce a condition attached to the county’s lot that requires “natural” materials be used on the buildings if they are within 100 feet of the property line of neighboring lots at Stillwater.
The condition was attached by Fabi Benedict, wife of prominent post World War II developer Fritz Benedict, before she donated the land to the county’s affordable housing program.
The county originally wanted to use asphalt shingles as a way to keep construction costs down, but the Resnicks refused to back the idea, and threatened to sue the county again if it followed through with a plan to build the project with a gravel roof.
Now that the buildings no longer encroach on the 100-foot setback, the Resnicks have no say in what materials are used.
The commissioners said they would like to see work begin sometime in September and continue through the winter if weather is mild enough. Work on Stillwater was originally scheduled to begin in spring 2000. The groundbreaking may yet be delayed by Commissioner Shellie Roy’s concerns over the mix of units and the parking arrangements.
Roy has voted against Stillwater more than once because of objections about the layout, the lack of garages, the size of the counters in the kitchen and the lack of storage. A year and a half ago she forced the housing authority to undergo four months of “value engineering” to make the project more resident-friendly.
Rayburn warned that any major reworking of the basic unit design – such as the addition of garages or the conversion of one-bedroom units into two-bedroom units – would jeopardize all that good work.
“Don’t forget that we ended up redesigning the project to make it much more functional for families,” Rayburn said.
Architect Michael Fuller agreed. He pointed out that the plan to shrink the project from 17 to 13 units does not affect the layout of the units.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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