Judge affirms notice of Snowmass Base Village lawsuit

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

A judge validated the filing of a notice of legal proceeding by a spurned local developer once on the verge of purchasing a lot in Snowmass Base Village.

Sunrise Co. filed the notice at the same time as a complaint against Snowmass Acquisition Co., the Related Cos. subsidiary in control of Base Village, for allegedly wrongfully terminating negotiations over the lot. Snowmass Acquisition Co. responded with a petition to show cause, seeking to invalidate the notice of lis pendens, which alerts outside potential purchasers of Sunrise’s claims to the property.

But Judge Chris Seldin on Monday denied the petition, saying there is “a rational basis” for the notice. The ruling is not a statement on the wrongful-termination suit, but it does encourage Sunrise’s attorneys.

“This really is a huge win,” said Aspen attorney David Bovino, representing Sunrise. “We believe a lot of the positive facts and testimony that were elicited (in a Pitkin County District Court hearing April 26) … further substantiate our claims and underline the case in chief.”

A representative of Snowmass Acquisition Co. declined to comment Monday.

Snowmass Acquisition Co. still has a letter of intent from Aspen Skiing Co. to purchase and develop a hotel on Base Village Lot 2. After it terminated negotiations with Sunrise, Snowmass Acquisition Co. immediately announced a pending deal to sell all of its Base Village assets, with the exception of Lot 2, to Vail Valley firm East West Partners.

That deal fell through in December; however, some members of the community believe Related would still like to sell the property, pointing to the release of its other Snowmass assets (the Snowmass Center sold to Eastwood Developments Inc. in March; its Mall assets have been listed with a real estate firm).

The termination occurred despite both Sunrise and Snowmass Acquisition Co. continuing to work together to win Snowmass Village Town Council approval of amended plans for the whole of Base Village, as Seldin’s order notes. Sunrise was responsible for the costs of undergoing that process for Lot 3, which wound up exceeding $1.5 million, the order says.

“Sunrise has invested its reputation and some $1.5 million in pursuit of the approvals so important to (Snowmass Acquisition Co.), and indeed helped deliver those approvals,” Seldin wrote.

One of Snowmass Acquisition Co.’s reasons for the termination was some missed deadlines on Sunrise’s part through the process. However, the expected timeline was disrupted when the town did not expedite the review of Snowmass Acquisition Co.’s land-use application, Seldin wrote.

“Deadlines for action by both sides passed without objection from the other party and without derailing the parties’ joint enterprise,” Seldin wrote.

No hearings are scheduled in Sunrise’s primary complaint, which seeks “specific performance” requiring Snowmass Acquisition Co. to sell Lot 3 under the terms of the original agreement. The suit says that Sunrise had put down a $250,000 deposit on the pending $8.2 million purchase.

Lot 3 is located at the entrance to Base Village. Sunrise, also the company behind the Dancing Bear fractional residence club in Aspen, intended to develop two buildings on the property in Snowmass with a mix of fractional and wholly owned residential units.

“Sunrise remains extremely committed to the town of Snowmass Village and development of Base Village,” Bovino said Monday.