Maneuvering continues in lawsuit over Grand Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Maneuvering continues in lawsuit over Grand Aspen

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Neighbors who object to the height of a planned new hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain have asked a district court judge to halt construction of the project until their concerns are addressed.

The Galena Place Townhome Condominium Association, which sued developers and the city over the proposed project in February, filed a motion last week seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent developers from moving forward.

Four Peaks Developments and Grand Aspen Lodging LLC plan to construct the 51-suite Hyatt Grand Aspen time-share hotel on the Dean Street lot where the former Grand Aspen Hotel was razed last year.

Last Wednesday, the same day Galena Place filed its motion, the developers filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. In their motion, the developers charged Galena Place with engaging in delay tactics that are resulting in economic harm to the developers and the city of Aspen.

Now, the city is preparing a response asking the court to deny Galena Place’s motion for an injunction to halt work on the hotel. Further delays are not in the public’s best interest, according to City Attorney John Worcester, who said he plans to file a memorandum outlining the city’s position this week.

“We’ve got a big hole in the ground, in the middle of town, during the height of the tourist season,” he said.

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“It is not in the interest of the public to have this eyesore continue in its present state,” notes a draft of the city’s memorandum. “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.”

In their lawsuit, the four Galena Place homeowners challenge the city’s regulation of building heights and the City Council’s approval of a 45-foot-high hotel. The old Grand Aspen was 32 feet high.

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.

During the city’s review of the time-share hotel, it failed to adequately revisit the height of the building, established when a different project – a 150-room, moderately priced hotel – was approved for the site, according to the suit. The original hotel plan was also part of a PUD.

“What token discussion occurred on the issue of height was but smoke and mirrors in contrived response to neighbors’ concerns,” the motion for an injunction states.

The motion contends the new hotel will both obstruct neighbors’ views and diminish the value of their property.

The homeowners “purchased and invested millions in their homes because of the views they currently enjoy,” according to the motion.

The city contends its approval of the project was within the council’s discretion and that the neighbors’ concerns were given “due consideration” during the review process.

The developers, in their motion to dismiss the suit, contend the litigation has hampered their ability to secure financing for the project. Their motion also claims the neighbors’ failure to seek a preliminary injunction in a timely manner has allowed work at the hotel site and other preparations to continue, rendering their claim moot.

The case is before Judge Peter T. Craven. No hearing date on the motions filed by the neighbors and the developers had been set by yesterday afternoon.

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