Aspen withdraws historic preservation award |

Aspen withdraws historic preservation award

John Colson
Aspen, CO Colorado
Aspen historic preservation officials pulled an award for the house and two cabins located at 2 Williams Way near the base of Smuggler Mountain. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” Aspen’s historic preservation officials this week pulled back an award intended for a controversial housing project near the base of Smuggler Mountain.

The change of heart came after a protesting neighbor alerted officials to a legal dispute and other issues related to the property.

The award ” for a newly constructed 4,000-square-foot home and two historic cabins at 2 Williams Way ” was scheduled to be handed out as part of a ceremony on Jan. 16. It was one of seven preservation-related awards for local development projects given by the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission.

But at a meeting of the Aspen City Council earlier this week, local resident Bob Nix Sr., objected to the award for the Williams Way property, which is owned by Scott Hicks and his family.

“Is this some sort of joke?” asked Nix at the council meeting, referring to the award for a project he maintains was illegal from its conception.

Nix is a member of the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. board of directors, which oversees the affairs of the Hunter Creek Condominiums project that is adjacent to the Hicks property.

Hicks and the Commons Corp. board in 2002 engineered a complicated land swap so Hicks could expand his development site to provide room to build his home and remodel two historic cabins that came with the land he had purchased several years earlier.

The cabins comprised two sides of a duplex that stood on the site where Hicks wanted to build his new home. The cabins were moved onto a parcel of vacant land previously owned by Hunter Creek to make room for the new Hicks’ family house, and a nearby parcel of the same size that Hicks had owned was turned over to Hunter Creek.

But the land swap was called into question by Nix two years ago, in part because it was never approved by the Hunter Creek Homeowners’ Association as required by its bylaws.

The swap since has been voided by the Commons Corp. board, and the Hicks development has landed in the local courts for a long list of legal reasons. It is the subject of lawsuits involving Hunter Creek Commons Corp., the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (because of questions regarding affordable-housing designations for the two cabins), and the city of Aspen (because of uncertainties about a city park easement that covers the part of the property traded to Hunter Creek, and about historic designation of the two cabins).

Nix, in his appearance before the City Council, objected to a city award for a project that is subject to such a complicated legal battle, and apparently his argument held weight.

“The mayor’s office directed the HPC to not give the award,” said HPC chairman Michael Hoffman on Thursday. Mayor Mick Ireland said he did not want the city to be seen as approving a project embroiled in litigation, especially in litigation that the city is being drawn into.

Hoffman said he and the other commission members were not aware of the legal problems associated with the property, and that the city’s historic preservation staffers had only heard about the legal battle “earlier this week.”

Historic preservation planner Amy Guthrie confirmed that she was unaware of the controversy over the Hicks project. She said the award was for historic preservation values, “and I don’t think that’s in question.”

Once the legal issues affecting the Hicks property are “resolved,” she said, it is possible the property will be resubmitted for a historic preservation award because “they did such a good job with that.”

“This project reminds me of a knockoff Rolex watch,” Nix wrote in an e-mail exchange with The Aspen Times this week. “It looks great, but upon close scrutiny it is illegal.”

He has questioned the city’s role in permitting what he calls “a five million dollar house on a scarce deed restricted affordable housing worker lot,” maintaining that the project is not in keeping with city’s land-use goals or affordable housing programs.

“Can a local worker such as a teacher, nurse, carpenter or bartender afford this house?” he asked in the e-mail exchange. “I don’t know any workers in Hunter Creek or Centennial, surrounding this property, that could afford it. Also, is it award winning land planning to design a huge house that dominates the city owned pocket park that is adjacent and below it?”

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