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Stillwater project hits rough water

Allyn Harvey

The planned Stillwater affordable housing project east of Aspen is on the rocks.

A final decision on the development was tabled yesterday after a daughter of Fitz and Fabi Benedict said the county was violating the spirit of her deceased parents’ gift to the affordable housing program.

Jessica Benedict-Gordon and her husband, John Gordon, testified against the plan to put 17-units of affordable housing on a four-acre lot donated to the county by the Benedicts in 1994.

“Fitz left the lot with a specific building envelope. He drew up no plans for employee housing, and he would never envision a project that goes from lot line to lot line,” Gordon said.

The Stillwater property is located across Highway 82 from the Mountain Valley subdivision. The Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority is planning to build three- and one-bedroom units on the land.

Citing the terms of the gift, Gordon pointed out that the Benedicts had envisioned the property being sold and the money being used for affordable housing elsewhere. “Fabi would no doubt be sad that the money that would have been made through the sale of this lot will be spent on lawsuits instead,” he said.

The document giving the land to the county says the money from the sale of the lot should be used for affordable housing. But it also says that “in lieu of a sale,” the county may use it as a site for affordable housing.

Gordon said that Fabi understood “in lieu of” to mean if no other option is possible. But the county commissioners disagreed, noting that a sizable portion of the document discusses conditions that apply if the land is used as an affordable housing site.

Nevertheless, County Commissioner Leslie Lamont asked to continue the application until July 25 so the commissioners could discuss “the big picture” surrounding the future of the lot. The commissioners voted unanimously to put off their decision for two more weeks.

The project faced little opposition two weeks ago, when it went before the commissioners for first reading. A lawyer representing two neighbors challenged the size of the project. He also questioned the ability of County Commissioner Mick Ireland to consider the application fairly, alleging the county commissioner’s position on the housing authority’s board of directors gave him an official stake in the outcome of the application.

In response, the county sought the opinion of Linda Donnelly, a former disciplinary counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court. She said there was no conflict of interest arising from Ireland’s seat on the housing board.


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