Developer drops out of Given negotiations
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – SC Acquisitions LLC has withdrawn its application to develop Given Institute property on Aspen’s West End, city officials said Monday.
A special City Council meeting that had been scheduled for Monday to continue negotiations between the would-be developer and the city of Aspen was over in a matter of minutes. Mayor Mick Ireland said a representative of the developer, attorney Bart Johnson, informed the city late Friday that his client did not want to continue the discussions.
Since a public hearing had been scheduled over the Given, Ireland asked the audience if anyone had anything to say on the matter. When no one did, the council then moved to go into executive session over an unspecified litigation issue.
Johnson, reached for comment Monday afternoon, said his client – whose name has not been publicly identified – didn’t feel he was making progress with his proposal for the 2.25-acre property. Initially, SC Acquisitions asked for approval to subdivide the property into four lots, three of which would be targeted for luxury home development. The would-be developer proposed to allow the city or a group deemed suitable by the city to purchase the fourth, undeveloped lot, containing the Given Institute building, for $3.75 million, so that the building could be preserved for public or nonprofit use.
Most Aspen Planning and Zoning commissioners and City Council members rejected those plans over a series of meetings in January, asking instead for options to purchase two of the four lots: the one which contains the Given, the other a more naturally scenic parcel. Along with community critics, they generally scoffed at other details of the proposal, especially plans to cut down a large number of trees to make room for the luxury houses, as well as requests for development fee waivers and variances to Hallam Lake Bluff setbacks and residential design standards.
Last week, City Attorney John Worcester sent Johnson a letter detailing ways in which SC Acquisitions could win project approval. The city’s talking points included the possibility of only two residential developments on the site and giving the city a three-year option in which to find a suitable buyer for two of the four lots, including the one which contains the Given, at a cost of $3.75 million each.
Those concessions, along with a few others, would have been too burdensome, Johnson said. “The project was not remotely economically feasible on those terms,” he said.
SC Acquisitions was seeking to purchase the Given Institute property from the University of Colorado for about $14 million. CU had wanted to complete the sale before the spring. With its development application pulled from consideration, SC Acquisitions does not plan to go through with the purchase.
The land was partially donated to the university in the early 1970s by the late Elizabeth Paepcke, the philanthropist who helped shape Aspen during its transition into modern times. Over the years, CU has been using the property for seminars and other educational purposes, but no longer wants to deal with its expensive annual upkeep and needs the proceeds from its sale to help shore up ailing finances.
After Monday’s abbreviated council meeting, Chris Bendon, community development director for the city of Aspen, said no individual, nonprofit group or private developer has approached city officials with alternate plans to purchase or redevelop the Given Institute property.
Bendon said the city last summer explored the idea of buying the property outright, but did not have enough community consensus for moving forward with that option.
CU holds a demolition permit for the Given building, which is said to be architecturally significant. The university, being a state entity, is not bound by the same rules as private landowners in terms of needing local approval for how it develops its properties.
SC Acquisitions and the city had been negotiating under Ordinance 48, a special provision intended to find common ground between local government and developers on issues involving the preservation of historic properties.
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