Hotel height fight brings parties into court today
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A district court judge will begin hearing testimony today on whether or not he should order a halt to the construction of a new downtown Aspen hotel until a lawsuit filed by neighbors of the project is resolved.
The Galena Place Townhome Condominium Association is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent developers from moving forward with the planned Hyatt Grand Aspen at the site of the former Grand Aspen Hotel.
A two-day hearing is scheduled before Judge Peter T. Craven at the Pitkin County Courthouse.
The four Galena Place homeowners are suing Four Peaks Developments, Grand Aspen Lodging LLC and the city of Aspen over the height of the planned new time-share hotel on Dean Street. As a result, developers say they have had difficulty securing financing for a project that was to get under way last spring.
Four Peaks/Grand Aspen Lodging and the city are opposing the requested injunction. The developers would like the ability to proceed with the project, said their attorney, Matthew Ferguson.
Developers and the city have also asked Craven to dismiss the suit, but this week’s hearing will focus solely on the motion for the injunction.
The bulk of the lawsuit is directed at the city. The neighbors claim the city acted improperly in approving the height of the new hotel and are challenging the constitutionality of Aspen’s land-use regulations.
Ferguson declined last week to speculate on who will take the stand at the hearing, since it’s Galena Place’s motion that is at issue.
“I’m in a reactive mode. I don’t know who will be called to testify,” he said.
Attorney Peter Thomas Jr., representing the neighbors, declined to comment on the case in advance of the hearing.
The city will play a minimal role in this week’s hearing, according to City Attorney John Worcester, who said he plans to call only Mayor Helen Klanderud to testify.
Separate from the interests of the neighbors and the developers, Worcester said, is the public’s interest in the fate of the hotel site, which currently features a large hole in the ground.
“One factor the court should consider is whether or not it [issuing a restraining order] would be a disservice to the public,” Worcester said. “The public obviously has an interest in the outcome of this hearing.”
In its memorandum asking the court to deny the request for a preliminary injunction, the city noted: “It is not in the interest of the public to have this eyesore continue in its present state. The city of Aspen relies entirely upon tourism to sustain its economic viability. Having a huge hole surrounded by an unsightly fence in the center of the town’s commercial core does not enhance tourism.”
Apart from this week’s proceedings regarding the request for an injunction, Galena Place and the city are filing briefs on the allegations contained in the lawsuit. The neighbors have filed their brief challenging the city’s actions and the constitutionality of its regulation of building heights. The city has until Aug. 16 to respond, Worcester said.
The proposed Hyatt Grand Aspen, to be operated by Hyatt Vacation Club, is to be 45 feet high. The old Grand Aspen topped out at 32 feet.
In their motion for an injunction, the neighbors have asked the court to prevent the developers from commencing construction and to stop the city from processing or issuing a building permit for the hotel until their rights have been addressed in court.
The neighbors claim the city’s regulation of building heights in a Planned Unit Development, or PUD, is vague and that the City Council’s approval of the Hyatt Grand Aspen was “arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”
The time-share hotel was reviewed through the PUD land-use process. A PUD gives a development flexibility to vary from the requirements of the underlying zoning; the lawsuit claims the city land-use code lacks sufficient criteria to determine how much a project should be allowed to stray from the limits of the underlying zoning. The zoning of the Grand Aspen site established a 28-foot height limit.
The neighbors, in documents filed with the court, contend the new hotel will both obstruct their views and diminish the value of their property.
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