‘NIMBYs’ thwart neighbor’s development plans
To avoid a yearslong legal battle with Aspen homeowners over the development of an awkward piece of property near the Oklahoma Flats Trail, the city of Aspen will pay the land owner $150,000.
It’s part of a settlement that Aspen City Council signed off on Tuesday that has the municipal government paying $150,000 to property owner Peter Fornell.
Fornell’s neighbors, who live in the Oklahoma Flats area and threatened to sue him if he built a house on the property, also will pay him $150,000.
In exchange for $300,000, Fornell will convey the property to the city. A deed restriction will be placed on the parcel preventing any future development.
The city’s money will come from the Open Space and Trail’s fund.
A group of eight individuals who own property near the parcel, located at 777 Gibson Ave. directly next to the trail, sued the city this past summer, claiming the board of adjustment exceeded its jurisdiction when it gave Fornell setback variances due to the constraints on the property.
The neighbors also argued that Fornell does not have a right to develop the lot because it did not go through a public-approval process.
That’s contrary to the legal opinion provided by City Attorney Jim True, who concluded that the property is a legal lot with an existing development right.
But in a memo to council for Tuesday’s meeting, True said the legal wrangling would be too costly.
“Rather than the owner, the neighbors and the city being mired in litigation for years, and rather than have a popular, heavily used trail being severely impacted from development of a single-family home, the parties have reached an agreement that resolves all issues,” he wrote.
Fornell said Tuesday night that he intended to build a home for himself and his family, but neighbors thwarted his plans.
He said it would cost even more to get into a protracted legal battle with well-funded neighbors.
“I wanted a house, … what I didn’t want is to get sued,” he said. “I’m satisfied with the result but I’m not thrilled.”
Fornell also noted that he was told the property had developable rights attached to it and it would give the city an easement to the trail that did not exist previously.
Council members lauded the settlement agreement, saying they are glad all parties were able to come to the table and agree, and that the city no longer will be embroiled in a lawsuit.
The city’s open space and trails board recommended in November that it purchase the property.
City and open space officials believe that any construction would be too impactful to the Oklahoma Flats Trail because it crosses the property.
Fornell and an investment partner, through a limited liability company, paid $750,000 for the parcel.
True noted that the property owners will receive tax benefits for their donations to the city.
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Every summer there comes a particular hike on a particular day when you know you’re seeing the best wildflower display of the year. It is a magical, and bittersweet, day.