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Battle could go in front of council

Bob Nix and Scott Hicks might have their day in court, in a manner of speaking, this week at an Aspen City Council meeting.Or they might not.At tonight’s meeting, the council will hear about Nix’s request that the city void a series of approvals that permitted Hicks to build a 4,600-square-foot home on land next to the Hunter Creek Condominiums, where Nix lives.But the council also will hear from its head planner, Chris Bendon, and its attorney, John Worcester, who have stated that the city is not in a position to do what Nix wants.Hicks, who works for Aspen Country Day School, is building his home partly using land he received in a swap with the Hunter Creek Commons Corp., which manages the Hunter Creek Condominiums.The swap, Nix maintains, improperly turned over a valuable piece of land to Hicks and inadequately compensated the Hunter Creek Condominiums homeowners.Former city planning director Julie Ann Woods granted approval in 2002 for Hicks’ development, based on an agreement between Hicks and the Commons Corp. Terming it a “lot line adjustment, which is a type of land use decision she is legally permitted to make on her own, she processed the approval without a formal hearing before the city’s land-use review boards.Earlier this year Nix, in a formal request for a “code interpretation,” sought to have Bendon explain why it wasn’t put through a full land-use review process. He did not get an explanation from Bendon, and now wants to get one from the city council.That swap, according to Nix, was illegal because the Commons Corp. board never got the permission of the Hunter Creek condo owners, as required by the condominium bylaws.Nix also has argued that Hunter Creek cannot own land that is under an affordable housing deed restriction, since many of the condo owners are not legal residents of Pitkin County, which is a requirement for owning deed restricted land.Plus, Nix maintains, the land Hicks received, for which he paid a little more than $26,800, could be worth up to $900,000 or more, according to a letter he sent out to his fellow Hunter Creek condo owners, urging them to show up at the May 8 hearing. Nix is a retired Illinois judge who has lived at Hunter Creek for about three years, and is working on the case by himself.The Hunter Creek Commons Corp., acting on advice from attorney Lenny Oates, recently “repudiated” the deal, in the words of a letter to the condo association members. That basically means the trade is null and void, seemingly based largely on Nix’s arguments. A second memo to the members, dated May 1, stated that the board “is working to resolve the land exchange with all parties involved.”Nix now believes the entire development is illegal and should be halted, while Hicks has said the entire dispute is a result of misunderstandings and mistakes made by the Hunter Creek Commons board, the city and himself.Nix also believes the city is at fault for giving its approvals to a project based on what Nix says were false and illegal assumptions and actions.Hicks, who maintains he is trying to build a home for himself and his family, has argued that the swap was perfectly legal and that he has done nothing to warrant interference by the city, although he has admitted that he failed to formally transfer the deed for his acquired property into his name, which could cause problems for his case.In a memo to the council, Bendon reiterates earlier arguments that Nix’s request for a “code interpretation” regarding the city’s approvals for Hicks’ project was not the appropriate venue for Nix’s complaints. The memo states that Bendon decided that “code interpretations are limited to clarifying the meaning of the text of the Land Use Code or the boundaries of the zone district map,” rather than concluding whether a land use approval is valid or not.Nix, according to Bendon, “considers this determination to be itself an interpretation of the code and has appealed.”As for Nix’s desire to have the city council decide whether the city acted appropriately in granting Hicks’ development approvals, Bendon wrote in his memo, “staff recommends City Council refrain from weighing in on the twelve issues raised by Mr. Nix. They are likely to be the subject of a legal dispute between the adjacent property owners.”Worcester said it would be up to City Council members to decide whether to entertain the larger issues underlying Nix’s appeal, or stick to the narrow question of whether Bendon made the correct decision when he declined to answer Nix’s request.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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