Resident sues Aspen over double-basement impacts
November 7, 2014
A local resident is claiming the city of Aspen is responsible for damages he and his family have incurred as a result of a nearby construction project involving excavation of a double basement for a single-family home.
Tim Murray, who has spoken out on the issue several times at City Hall since June, claims the city violated a Colorado statute and went against its own Aspen Area Community Plan in allowing homeowners at 1409 Crystal Lake Road to move forward with construction in April. Those and other claims are detailed in the complaint filed in Pitkin County District Court on Sept. 26 by Murray, who is representing himself without a legal background.
City Attorney Jim True said it's the city's belief that it has no obligation to compensate Murray under any legal concepts. The Aspen Area Community Plan, he said, is not a binding regulatory document, and the city disagrees with the reading of the state statute Murray cited.
Murray, who lives at 1275 Riverside Drive, claims the city did not abide by a statute that relates to the extent and type of work allowed in the initial building permit granted to BCL Trust, the listed owner. According to Murray's allegations, the excavation was expected to take three months, but after five months, the city "allowed a change order giving permission to the contractor to excavate for another six months." On Sept. 20, Murray received a letter from the city claiming it was within its rights.
The city's insurance provider, Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, has hired attorney Sophia H. Tsai, who specializes in liability of public officials, to handle proceedings. Tsai has until Nov. 16 to respond to Murray's complaint.
According to the complaint, Murray first approached the contractor, Steve Smith Construction, in February. After learning the extent of the project, he began a campaign against it, petitioning to have noise barriers and full-time noise and air-quality monitoring equipment installed, a point he has argued before the Aspen City Council. Because none of the equipment has been installed, the project violates the city's construction-mitigation requirements, as well, Murray contended.
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True said that by not including the neighbor in the lawsuit, Murray failed to name indispensable parties, a point the insurance company plans to address in its response. Murray said he did not include the neighbor because he doesn't believe that party is at fault.
"I don't think (the homeowner) is at fault," Murray said. "It's the city that allowed him to do this, and the city knew that it was illegal. I've read them the law at City Council meetings."
Murray did not specify the amount of damages, an amount he said he wants the court to establish.
"The main point of this is I want this job to stop," he said. "It's wrong and disruptive, and it's noisy beyond belief every day."
Murray's comments before the council prompted Aspen's Community Development Department to address the issue of double basements in Aspen. Officials have recently fielded two single-family-home proposals that include double basements: Murray's neighbor and a project at 201 E. Hyman Ave. that accommodates an indoor basketball court. On Oct. 27, the council adopted code language intended to quash the phenomena, though the two prior proposals will not be affected.
In a separate motion, Murray has filed a request with the District Court to review minutes from an executive session the council held Oct. 27. The motion is made on the grounds of Colorado sunshine laws.