City Council could weigh in on Hunter Creek land swap | AspenTimes.com
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City Council could weigh in on Hunter Creek land swap

John Colson

A controversial 4-year-old land swap involving property near the Hunter Creek Condominiums complex in Aspen has landed in the lap of the Aspen City Council – sort of. The City Council will hear an appeal of the complicated swap, which Hunter Creek Condominiums resident Bob Nix filed, on April 10.The appeal is of a land use-code interpretation, City Attorney John Worcester said. It is based on Nix’s request last year for one from city planner Chris Bendon regarding the legality of the land trade.But such a narrowly defined hearing, Worcester conceded, might or might not deal with the broader questions Nix has raised.The swap, Nix maintains, improperly turned over a valuable piece of land to a developer and inadequately compensated the original owners – the Hunter Creek Condominiums homeowners.The city gave its approval for the land swap, terming it a “lot line adjustment,” without a formal hearing before the city’s land-use review boards. Nix sought to have Bendon explain why it wasn’t put through a full land-use review process.But Bendon said what Nix wanted was not a matter of interpreting the city’s land-use code so he did not give Nix an answer. “The theory of my case is that Chris denied that any of the issues raised voided the project so I am appealing his decision to the City Council,” Nix said. “All Chris is saying is that those aren’t appropriate questions for a code interpretation,” Worcester said recently. 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.The swap involved the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. board of directors and 15-year Aspen area resident Scott Hicks, who is building a 4,000-square-foot house at the corner of Spruce Street and Williams Way on Aspen’s north side.Hicks arranged a trade of two nearly identical parcels adjacent to that intersection, one that he owned for one owned by the residents of the Hunter Creek Condos. Hicks wanted the Hunter Creek parcel in order to relocate two historic cabins from the site of his house project, which the city had recommended. Hicks also paid the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. $26,825 in the deal.Nix, who has studied the land swap, believes it was not legal because the Hunter Creek homeowners did not formally sign off on the deal even though the board president did.He has also said Hunter Creek cannot legally own the parcel it got from Hicks because it is an “affordable housing” site, and by city and county law a resident of the county must own it. He said many Hunter Creek condo owners are not legal residents of Pitkin County.Nix has complained that the money paid to Hunter Creek is nowhere near the value of the developable land that Hicks got out of the deal, and believes Hicks owes the Commons Corp. more money. Plus, he said in a letter to his fellow condo owners, because the land the condo owners got has a city park easement on it, any citizen who cares to can use it and the Commons Corp. would bear liability for any injuries suffered during such use.And besides, he said, no deed transfer for the parcels has ever been recorded, so the deal is not legally valid.Nix has criticized the city for permitting the deal, arguing that part of the city government’s role is to protect the public from improper land development and from questionable land transactions. Now he wants the swap voided, along with approvals for Hicks’ house.”I’m just giving the city the opportunity to resolve this matter on an administrative level,” Nix said in a telephone interview. “I’m just a lawyer bringing up issues.”In his letter he urged his fellow condo owners to attend the April 10 hearing at City Hall and make their opinions known.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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