Hunter Creek land swap still under fire | AspenTimes.com

Hunter Creek land swap still under fire

John Colson

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A changing of the guard in a local homeowners association has raised hopes for the resolution of a bitter property line dispute.Hunter Creek Condominiums homeowner Bob Nix three weeks ago won a seat on the board of the Hunter Creek Commons Corp., as did three other newcomers. A fifth seat remains in dispute because of a tie vote, and will be filled after a runoff election by mail ballot.The board will meet to choose officers, possibly in early January, and “We will then form a strategy for settling the land problem,” Nix said.Nix, a retired Illinois judge, has been agitating for nearly a year over what he feels was a bogus land swap between Hunter Creek and a longtime local, Scott Hicks.Hicks, who works for Aspen Country Day School, is building a 6,000 square-foot home partly on land he received in a 2002 swap with the Hunter Creek Commons Corp., the managing entity for the condo association.Hicks has said the swap was proper, legal and above board.”It was a deal that everybody agreed to,” Hicks said in March. The deal included the Hunter Creek Commons Corp. and the city of Aspen as participants. He said maybe Hunter Creek Commons Corp. board members “have some things that they have to clear up on their side of the fence.”The swap involved two similarly sized pieces of land along Hunter Creek Condominiums’ northern boundary. A city park easement covered one Hicks owned, so he could not build on it. The condominium association owned the other, which could not be developed under the city’s original approvals for the condo project.Hicks arranged to swap the parcels, leaving Hunter Creek essentially holding title to a city park, clearing the way for Hicks to add the swapped land to an adjacent parcel he owned, and begin development.During research into government records, Nix discovered what he says are irregularities in the original swap, including the lack of a formal vote of approval from the Hunter Creek condo owners, as the association’s charter requires.In addition, Hicks has admitted that he never had the deed to his new land formally transferred to his name.Finally, the land Hicks traded to Hunter Creek carries a Pitkin County deed restriction for affordable housing. Since many Hunter Creek owners are not county residents, they cannot legally own the parcel, Nix maintains.Reached at his home this week, Hicks declined to comment further than he has in the past.The Aspen City Council has refused to get involved in the knot of conflicting interests, and City Attorney John Worcester predicted earlier this year that the city is likely to be the target of a lawsuit over its approvals for Hicks’ development project. Meetings with county officials, scheduled at least twice in recent months, never took place, Nix said.Regardless of other developments, the city’s building department last week issued certificates of occupancy for two historic cottages on the disputed land. A certificate for the main Hicks house has yet to be issued.Nix, who has lived at Hunter Creek for the past four years, said this week he had drawn up two lawsuits over the matter and was ready to file them, but he has held off until he sees what the newly elected board will do about the matter.Another new Hunter Creek board member, local photographer Ross Kribbs, said last week that he knew of Nix’s fight. He said that “in general, I’m a pretty strong supporter” of Nix’s basic contention that Hicks, who paid the association around $26,000 in addition to the land he traded, did not pay enough.”I think it’s fair to say that no one has an axe to grind,” Kribbs continued. “They just want a resolution [that is] reasonable and equitable” to all sides.Acting on the advice of attorney Lenny Oates, the association has “repudiated” its swap agreement with Hicks, meaning the association considers the deal null and void. But there are three homes on the parcel, two of which may soon be occupied.”This matter will eventually end up in litigation because everyone is in denial,” Nix wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times last week, “and the court action should have started many months ago.”John Colson’s e-mail is jcolson@aspentimes.com