Time to stop talking about Stillwater; just build it! | AspenTimes.com

Time to stop talking about Stillwater; just build it!

It is with cautious optimism that we applaud the Pitkin County commissioners for moving forward with the long-dormant Stillwater affordable housing project.

We’re optimistic because the project is attractive and adds to the affordable housing stock.

Once built, 13 new townhomes along the Roaring Fork River will be available to local couples and families who can’t afford to purchase a free-market home.

The four buildings at Stillwater will share a common area bordering the river and will be surrounded by woods. They are close to the bike path and bus service to Aspen, providing easy access to the area’s slopes, shopping and cultural amenities.

The four one-bedroom units and nine three-bedroom units are smartly designed, thanks in large part to a “value engineering” exercise led by Pitkin County Commissioner Shellie Roy.

So we’re optimistic about the project. But that optimism is tempered by the county’s spotty record on Stillwater.

The 4-acre, county-owned lot in the Stillwater subdivision was donated by Fabi and Fritz Benedict, who owned and developed much of the property in and around Aspen during the 1950s and through the 1980s.

Their 1994 donation to the county came with a few conditions, the most important of which insisted that the property be used for affordable housing. Another condition stated that any development within 100 feet of neighboring lots use natural materials such as wood shake shingles, stone and slate.

In 1999, the county commissioned plans for a 17-unit project that came within the 100-foot setback. Design issues and negotiations with the neighbors led the county to miss the 2000 construction season.

A lawsuit by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, wealthy “neighbors” who live a half-mile away, stopped work during the 2001 construction season. The county won the case in district court in September 2002, but the Resnicks kept the case alive with an appeal.

The Resnicks continued to thwart the county’s plan by invoking the condition on materials and driving up the roofing costs. Rather than let that matter go to court, the commissioners initiated negotiations to swap the county’s parcel for the Resnick-owned Shadowwood Apartments. Discussions ended after the largest of the three Shadowwood buildings was condemned. Meanwhile, the 2002 construction season slipped away.

By giving up on four units and one of the buildings (13 instead of 17 units), the county is now outside the 100-foot line and can use whatever materials it deems appropriate. The smaller project can be rebid at what will surely be a lower cost.

Our message to the commissioners is simple: It’s time to stop talking about Stillwater and start building it. The county should move quickly to begin work this summer and have it ready for sale by the end of next year, the 10th anniversary of the Benedict donation.

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