Unfinished Starwood home outside of Aspen, HOA fines at heart of March trial

The Starwood gate and private road sign.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

A jury is scheduled to listen to five days of testimony regarding an Aspen-area luxury home that remains incomplete after roughly 13 years of construction and has resulted in $900,000 in late penalties.

Jury selection is set March 9 in Pitkin County District Court, the venue for a legal feud between the homeowners’ association that represents the gated Starwood subdivision and the owner and builder of a home that broke ground in 2007.

Barring a settlement or other resolution, the trial will come two years after plaintiff Epic View LLC sued the Starwood Homeowners Association in March 2018. Epic View is the legal name for the entity that owns the property at 1000 S. Starwood Drive; the LLC is controlled by Chicago investor Thomas Duckworth, who also is a party to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges Starwood over-fined Duckworth for having taken so long to complete the home. Starwood, however, has contended in a $3.4 million counterclaim against Epic and Duckworth, and in other pleadings, that the HOA’s covenants require home construction to be completed within 18 months after it begins. Projects taking longer result in fines levied against the property owner.

“Duckworth began construction on the project in 2007, and did not complete the project in a timely fashion,” said a filing dated Feb. 10 and written by the firm Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP, which is representing Starwood Homeowners Association in the matter.

Starwood began fining Duckworth and Epic View in 2014 — seven years into the project.

Epic View and Duckworth have contended the fines were miscalculated and exorbitant — ranging from the $60,000 penalty assessed in March 2014, a $120,000 fine in March 2015 and a $240,000 fine in March 2016. Duckworth paid those three penalties, but refused to pay a fourth fine of $480,000 levied against him in May 2017.

Duckworth has contended he paid the three fines while under duress, fearful that the Starwood HOA would interfere in a project in which he had invested so heavily. Starwood’s attorneys have argued the fines have been reasonable given the affluence of the Starwood community, and that the HOA governing documents allowed such amounts to be charged.

The level of the home’s completion is another issue. Duckworth’s legal team has argued that it is, for all practical purposes, complete. The exterior was finished in 2015, for example, yet the home has yet to obtain a certificate of occupancy.

So long as the home has no COO, it is technically incomplete and the fines are justified, Starwood has argued.

The Starwood Drive home comprises 18,951 square feet of living space and sits on 2.4 acres, according to the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office, which has appraised the property with an actual value of nearly $18.5 million. The Starwood neighborhood is located off McLain Flats Road.

On Feb. 10, Judge Chris Seldin dismissed some of Starwood HOA’s counterclaims regarding late-construction fines against Duckworth and Epic from 2017 to ’19. Seldin’s order noted that Starwood failed to notice Duckworth about the fines it issued him during that period, and as a result, he was not given a chance to be heard on the matter.

The HOA, Seldin’s order said, “was not permitted to ‘automatically’ levy the fines without such notice.”

Epic View and Duckworth are represented by attorney Corey Zurbuch, who declined comment Monday. Aspen attorney Paul Taddune, who has worked with Starwood on previous issues, said he no longer works for the HOA but might appear as a witness in the trial.