Homeowners question Hunter Creek land swap
A convoluted, 4-year-old land swap involving property at the northern edge of Aspen has outraged a homeowner in the Hunter Creek Condominiums and triggered what might become a nasty legal battle.Bob Nix, a retired Illinois judge who has lived at Hunter Creek for about six years, feels the negotiations that led to the swap were at least improper and possibly illegal.”One luxury homeowner was unjustly enriched by thousands of dollars at the expense of the ordinary folks in Hunter Creek, including all the affordable housing residents who are the hard-working backbone of our community,” Nix said. “All of this deal occurred without their knowledge and required consent.”But Scott Hicks, a 15-year resident of the area and business manager of Aspen Country Day School, said the deal was proper, legal and above board. “It was a deal that everybody agreed to,” Hicks said, including Hunter Creek Commons Corp. and the city of Aspen. He said maybe the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. board members “have some things that they have to clear up on their side of the fence.”The land swap involved a 2002 trade of two nearly identical parcels along Spruce Street and Williams Way, just north of the Hunter Creek Condominiums complex. Hicks owned one, the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. the other.Hicks planned to move two historic cabins to make room for the construction of 4,000-square-foot house on the same parcel. But the Historic Preservation Commission told Hicks he could not build his house so close to the historic cottages. So in a deal with Hunter Creek Commons, Hicks gave the corporation an undevelopable parcel nearby and $26,825 in exchange for Hunter Creek’s 5,600-square-foot parcel that adjoined his property, where he moved the cabins.”That gave him breathing room to develop the house,” said Chris Bendon, director of the city’s planning office.”It was all just kind of good neighbors,” Hicks said, adding that the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. determined the amount he paid as part of the deal.The problem is, Nix said, the Commons Corp. never informed the homeowners, all of whom are members of the Commons Corp., about the deal, “as required by our bylaws.” The corporation’s attorney, Lenny Oates, has conceded that point and also has confirmed Nix’s charge that the corporation board did not get an appraisal of the value of the land it was handing over to Hicks.”The Commons Corporation and its board is actively working to get this resolved,” Oates said. “This was an innocuous transaction … a fair and equitable deal.”Nix also says there is no recorded deed transfer regarding the sale, so the land under Hicks’ uncompleted home technically does not belong to him. He said the Pitkin County attorney’s office also told him the Hunter Creek Commons cannot legally own the parcel it got in the swap because a deed restriction states it must be owned by a resident of the county.”I just found out about all this after I went walking around the neighborhood,” Nix said in a recent interview. After three months of study, Nix concluded the deal was improper. He feels the Hunter Creek owners have been cheated.Hicks conceded this week that Nix has made it “perfectly clear” that he believes the homeowners are due more money.Geoff Lester, current president of the corporation board, admitted that some of Nix’s arguments have “a little bit of validity,” but he rejected the idea that the corporation was involved in anything improper or illegal. He declined to discuss the specifics of the situation, saying, “I don’t think I should be talking about it. It’s none of your business.”Nix has written letters demanding explanations from the city, which endorsed the swap by accepting a filed plat that outlines the new owners of the lots even though the deed-transfer was never executed.In a file at City Hall, the deal is termed an “insubstantial boundary line change.” Then-Community Development Director Julie Ann Woods approved it in October 2002 after her staff gave it a stamp of approval.Planning Director Bendon and City Attorney John Worcester said the city at the time believed the lot line adjustment was valid, approved by the Hunter Creek management. They maintain the city’s role has been appropriate.”The city staffers are paid to protect the ordinary folks, not forget us in favor of luxury homeowners,” Nix countered. “This deal would have never happened in the West End. The Hunter Creek homeowners never had knowledge or gave their required consent to the deal.”Former Hunter Creek board President John Barnes, who signed the documents authorizing the swap but no longer lives at Hunter Creek, declined to comment on the matter.But at least two of the Hunter Creek homeowners who have received Nix’s letter have said they want to know more before they agree to sign off on the swap.Hunter Creek board president Lester said a letter was being drafted this week to give the homeowners “the straight scoop” and to begin the process of getting belated approval for the land swap from the homeowners.Nix, meanwhile, has sent a letter to all Hunter Creek homeowners bearing the title “Please do not sign any Hunter Creek Commons Corporation documents until you understand all the facts.”Jill Shore, who has lived at Hunter Creek for 21 years and was unaware of the land swap or the controversy until she got Nix’s letter, declared flatly when contacted by telephone, “I agree with Bob Nix.”She wants to know more about the deal and why the corporation board ushered it through without notifying the homeowners.”I don’t know why they were in such a hurry to do it,” she said.Another condo owner, Rick Rosen, is a real estate developer in Michigan who visits Aspen frequently. He said he is “in complete support of Mr. Nix in finding out how such an endeavor could have taken place without notifying the Hunter Creek homeowners.”At least one homeowner, who asked not to be named, said if the homeowners came to need an out-of-town attorney to get to the bottom of the deal, he would be willing to help pay the costs.Meanwhile, work continues on Hicks’ family’s new home.John Colson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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