Stillwater housing project foes lose a round in court
September 27, 2002
Part-time local residents Stewart and Lynda Resnick suffered a legal setback earlier this month in their effort to derail an affordable housing project in their neighborhood east of Aspen.
Ninth District Court Judge Thomas Ossola rejected arguments by the Resnicks and their attorneys that Pitkin County’s approval of a 17-unit housing project was illegal.
Ossola also rejected the Resnick’s claim that their due process rights had been violated by the fact that two of the county commissioners who took part in the decision had an irreconcilable conflict of interest because they were also on the board of the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, which is seeking to develop the project.
The Resnicks, represented by attorney J. Bart Johnson, argued the county was essentially doing whatever it needed ? including an illegal rezoning of its own property ? to move the project along.
Pitkin County owns a little more than four acres in the Stillwater subdivision, just outside the Aspen city limits, across Highway 82 from Mountain Valley. The land was donated to the county in the early 1990s by Aspen developer Fritz Benedict on the condition it be used for affordable housing .
The Resnicks live in an 18,000-square-foot house, which they have named “Little Lake Lodge,” about a half-mile from the county-owned land. They also own at least one lot in the Stillwater subdivision.
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When the subdivision was created in the mid-1990s, it was approved as a low-density neighborhood made up of single-family homes. The Resnicks objected when the county commissioners rezoned the county-owned lot in order to approve the five-building project ? about 25,000 square feet in total ? which consists of three- and one-bedroom townhomes.
County Attorney John Ely argued ? and Judge Ossola agreed ? that the county commissioners had adequately shown that conditions in the community had changed sufficiently since the land was donated to warrant the rezoning and the higher density. The county government, Ossola ruled, had acted legally in approving the project.
Ossola also disagreed with the contention that County Commissioners Shellie Roy and Mick Ireland were in a conflict of interest as members of both the housing board and the board of county commissioners. Ossola cited several rulings made in other courts that allowed for exactly the kind of dual role that Ireland and later Roy filled as representatives of the county on the housing board.
“Similarly in this case,” Ossola wrote, “the Housing Authority includes on its board one county commissioner who has no personal, financial or official stake in whether a particular project is approved.”
County Attorney Ely said the ruling means the county can proceed with the project, unless the Resnicks appeal or move to block it some other way.
Currently, the Resnicks are insisting the county use slate or wood shingles on the roof to comply with a provision in the Stillwater subdivision covenants that requires the county to use “natural materials” on the exterior of buildings within a certain distance of neighboring lots. Wood shingles are not allowed in the county building code, and a slate roof would add significantly to the cost of the project.
The Resnicks have rejected a request from the housing authority that some other, less “natural” roofing material be allowed. The housing authority is considering gravel for roofing material, arguing that it is just as “natural” as highly processed wood shingles.
Sources in the housing authority say the Resnicks have rejected gravel as a viable “natural” alternative, even though little lakes next to “Little Lake Lodge” are left over from a gravel pit once located on what is now the Resnick estate.
Ely said negotiations about roofing materials are still under way.
Neither the Resnicks nor their attorney returned messages asking for comment.
[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]