City denies claims in RETT lawsuit |

City denies claims in RETT lawsuit

Janet Urquhart

Aspen has formally denied allegations that it collected too much money in real estate transfer taxes when the former Ritz-Carlton hotel was sold in 1998.

In a response filed shortly before 5 p.m. yesterday, the city rejected claims that it improperly calculated its real estate transfer taxes and collected $1.9 million more than it was entitled to receive when the luxury hotel changed hands.

The current owners of the hotel, now the St. Regis, filed a lawsuit in January challenging the city’s real estate transfer taxes. Savanah Limited Partnership, former owner of the hotel, has joined in the suit. Savanah and SLT Aspen Dean Street LLC, which now owns the property, shared in the payment of $2.25 million in RETT fees when SLT bought the hotel from Savanah for $161.6 million.

The lawsuit claims language in Aspen’s municipal code only authorizes the city to assess RETTs based on the value of land, and not improvements on property. As the hotel itself accounted for most of the value of the transaction, the plaintiffs should have paid only $300,163 in RETT fees, the suit contends.

The city’s response rejects those claims and seeks court dismissal of the lawsuit. The city is also seeking reimbursement for its attorney’s fees and other expenses associated with the case.

The Denver law firm of Kutak Rock LLP has been hired as co-counsel for the city, according to City Attorney John Worcester.

The city has a .5 percent RETT dedicated to the Wheeler Opera House and a 1 percent RETT that funds affordable housing.

City officials contend voters intended to tax both land and improvements when they authorized the taxes.

However, if the city loses the suit, the resulting loss of revenues would significantly impact funding for construction of affordable housing for local workers. This year, the city anticipates collecting $1.8 million from the Wheeler RETT and more than $3 million from the housing RETT.

In response to the lawsuit, the city has set aside $10 million in RETT revenues to cover claims it may face if it loses. It is also setting aside half of all future RETT revenues until the case is resolved.

Despite the pending suit, the City Council is preparing to ask voters to reauthorize the housing RETT for 20 years in the May election. The housing RETT is scheduled to expire in 2004 without reauthorization.

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2001

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