Neighbors sue to block hotel: `It’s too high’
February 28, 2002
Neighbors of the proposed new Grand Aspen time-share hotel are suing the hotel’s developers and the city of Aspen over the height of the building slated to go up next to their condos.A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Pitkin County District Court seeks a judgment invalidating the height variance granted by the City Council for the project and halting construction of the hotel until the neighbors’ concerns are addressed.The suit also asks the court to declare the city’s regulation of building heights unconstitutionally vague or, in the alternative, to order the city to uphold the height limits contained in its zoning code.The legal action could delay the start of construction on the new, 51-unit time-share hotel in the Dean Street space where the former Grand Aspen Hotel was razed last year. Four Peaks Development won final city approval for the time-share project in January and had planned to begin the two-year construction project this spring. The new hotel is to be run by Hyatt Vacation Club as the Hyatt Grand Aspen.”I don’t know if this affects our plans or not,” said Scott Writer, representing Four Peaks. Writer said he had not yet seen the lawsuit yesterday afternoon.The suit was filed by the Galena Place Townhome Condominium Association, representing a small group of homeowners who reside to the southeast of the Grand Aspen site. They are represented by local attorney Peter Thomas Jr., who declined to comment on the suit yesterday.Jerry Monkarsh, president of the condo association, repeatedly objected to the planned height of the new hotel as it made its way through the city’s review. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.”It’s too high, it’s too big,” he told the council in January shortly before it won the council’s unanimous blessing. Monkarsh argued the developers could eliminate the top floor of the hotel without seriously affecting the project’s financial viability.”We think the fourth floor is superfluous – it’s seven units,” he said.The proposed new hotel will be 45-feet high, as measured from the sidewalk on the southwest corner of Galena and Dean streets to the top of the parapet at the center of the building, according to Sunny Vann, the planning consultant hired by Four Peaks.The front of the hotel will face Dean Street, to the south of the Silver Circle Ice Rink.The city zoning code sets a 28-foot height limit on the parcel, but the City Council granted a variance for the new hotel, which will be topped with a mansard roof containing the fourth-floor units. The former Grand Aspen topped out at 32 feet.When the council granted the time-share project a conceptual approval last May, including the height variance, Thomas objected on behalf of his clients.”This isn’t a pyramid in front of my clients’ windows, it’s a wall,” Thomas said at the time.The city originally granted the height variance when Savanah Limited Partnership was seeking approval for a new, 150-room hotel on the property. Savanah later sold its land holdings to Four Peaks, which sought an amended approval for a time-share hotel that retained the height approved with Savanah’s hotel plan.The lawsuit notes Savanah claimed the height variance was necessary to build a viable, moderately priced hotel. That project was to include various public amenities, including 8,000 square feet of conference space, a restaurant and bar, according to the suit.In the lawsuit, the neighbors claim the city failed to revisit the original justifications for granting the height variance for the Savanah project when Four Peaks came forward with a substantially different plan. Four Peaks eliminated the public amenities and turned the hotel into a time-share project in which Hyatt will sell the suites to buyers in fractional shares.The neighbors, in the suit, also contend the city planning department improperly advocated the time-share project on behalf of Four Peaks and that the city failed to adequately consider their objections.Members of the homeowners association appeared before the Planning and Zoning Commission last year to object to the height variance, the suit notes.Neighbors argued “that their views will be partially or totally obstructed; that light, air and shadows will be compromised; that their properties will suffer a real and significant diminution in value; and that the height variance of the magnitude requested will benefit the applicant at the expense of the immediate neighbors,” according to the lawsuit.The suit also contends the city’s land-use regulations are unconstitutional, in that they fail to provide any criteria for establishing the scope and appropriateness of a height variance. It asks the court to declare that provision of the code unconstitutional or to require the city to enforce a height variance more consistent with the 28-foot limit set by the zoning code.The plaintiffs are also seeking reimbursement of their attorney’s fees.Defendants in the suit include the City Council, the P&Z and the city planning department, as well as Four Peaks.City Attorney John Worcester said yesterday that he had not yet seen the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.