Attorneys representing the Celestial Land Co. filed a complaint in Pitkin County District Court Wednesday seeking relief from a resolution adopted by the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners on Feb. 26. The resolution grants an appeal by a group of entities known collectively as the “Neighbors” opposing development of the property owned by Celestial north of Maroon Creek Road in Pitkin County.
Neighbors consists of the Roaring Fork Land & Cattle Co., JM Skyways, the James Bulkley Family Trust and Katherine Bulkley 2006 Family Residence Trust and the Bruce E. Carlson Trust. Neighbors are represented by Glenn Horn, Gideon Kaufman and Mark Hamilton.
In May 2013, a county-appointed hearing officer approved the Celestial application for an activity envelope, site plan review and special review for transferable development rights to build a single-family residence on the 35-acre parcel owned by Celestial.
The Neighbors asserted five claims within their appeal, including that the development was allowed to occur within a high-impact avalanche area; that the development wasn’t required to avoid debris flow hazards to the maximum extent possible; that significant site planning issues were deferred for resolution outside of public hearings; that two additional transferable development rights were allowed to be transferred in order to authorize additional floor area on a 100 percent constrained development site and the hearing officer had a conflict of interest.
The county commissioners granted the appeal on Feb. 26 based exclusively on the conclusion that the hearing officer, Thomas F. Smith, should have recused himself due to a purported conflict of interest.
Smith served as the private land-use attorney for the prior owners of the Celestial property, Rick and Landon Deane.
By granting the appeal and proposing to undertake a new review of Celestial’s application, Celestial’s attorneys contend that the commissioners acted arbitrarily, acted outside of its authority and failed to act in accordance within the procedures of applicable law. They also requested that the commissioners limited the scope of their review to the determination by the hearing officer and the record previously created before the hearing officer.
“We needed to get the complaint filed in a timely manner or lose our opportunity to appeal this decision,” said Celestial attorney John Fognani.
“The next step mandated by the board is to present Celestial’s application to the board. Once the board hears the presentation and considers all the evidence, we believe it will conclude that there is virtually no difference in Celestial’s proposed development from the development next door by the Pritzkers (one of the neighbors), which was allowed to develop in a constrained area even though other areas of its 180 acre site would have been available for development. In fact, Celestial’s development will have a much smaller impact than the Pritzkers’ massive development next door, Foghani said.”