New twist in land-swap saga | AspenTimes.com
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New twist in land-swap saga

John Colson
The Hunter Creek Commons Corp. claims part of Scott Hicks' land, at the intersection of Spruce Street and Williams Way, was improperly acquired in a 2002 land swap. At least one Hunter Creek homeowner wants the city to put the brakes on the construction of Hicks' home. (Mark Fox/The Aspen TImes)
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The Hunter Creek Commons Corporation has “repudiated” a 4-year-old land swap with a neighboring developer, and one resident is calling on the city of Aspen to either rescind development permits related to the deal or halt construction on the home.But homeowner Scott Hicks is baffled by the mounting complications over a land swap that started eight years ago and has been in place since 2002.Hicks, who works as business manager for Aspen Country Day School, said this week he hopes the dispute can be resolved without taking it before a judge. He also hopes it will not jeopardize construction of the 4,000-square-foot home he is building on land next to the Hunter Creek Condominiums complex, “for me and my family” – a pregnant wife and two children.”The last place I want to go is court,” Hicks said on Monday. “I’m starting from the place that this is a fair and reasonable deal … I’m looking for some other people to step up and accept responsibility, too.”A hearing before City Council, originally scheduled for last night, has been postponed until May 8. It was derailed because the city’s Community Development Department “published an invalid public notice” regarding the hearing, according to a notice to Hunter Creek homeowners from Bob Nix. Nix filed the original complaint about the land swap.

The deal involved a 2002 trade of two nearly identical parcels on either side of the intersection of Spruce Street and Williams Way, just north of the Hunter Creek Condominiums complex.Hicks owned about an acre of land he bought in 1998, some 5,600 square feet of which had been orphaned when Williams Way was built on an easement across the property in the early 1990s.The Hunter Creek Commons Corp. owned another 5,600-square-foot parcel of land, also orphaned by the Williams Way easement, which abutted the larger remnant of Hicks’ land.Hicks planned to move two historic cottages to make room for the construction of his house on his parcel.But the city’s Historic Preservation Commission told Hicks he should not build his house close to the historic cottages, he reported. And he could not move them to his orphaned 5,600-square-foot parcel because a city park easement left over from a deal with the property’s previous owners, the Maxwell Aley family, overlaid it.

So in a deal with Hunter Creek Commons, initiated in 1998 but not completed until 2002, Hicks gave the corporation a roughly 5,600-square-foot piece of his land, plus $26,825 as a bonus, in exchange for Hunter Creek’s 5,600-square-foot parcel that adjoined his property. It was onto this parcel that he moved the cottages and renovated them, in preparation for their being occupied, while he built his new home nearby.But Nix, a former Illinois judge who moved to Hunter Creek several years ago, concluded last year that the land swap was not legal for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was never submitted to the Hunter Creek homeowners for their approval.Nix also discovered that Hunter Creek could not own the parcel it accepted in trade, because Pitkin County deed-restricted it as “resident occupied,” along with the rest of Hicks’ property, before being annexed into the city. Many Hunter Creek condo owners are not Pitkin County residents.Nix also believes Hunter Creek did not receive enough money for its land. He says the deal can and should be reversed because the title to the Hunter Creek parcel was never formally transferred to Hicks’ name. He has asked the city to clear up its role in the matter, and to halt Hicks until the matter is resolved.Aspen attorney Lenny Oates, who represents the Commons Corporation and reportedly advised in favor of repudiation of the land swap, was not available for comment.

Hicks, however, believes the deal was proper.”I did everything that everyone asked me to,” he said, admitting that he “dropped the ball” concerning transfer of the title, “and now I’m facing the consequences.” He said Hunter Creek was eager for the money it gained from the swap because of “financial troubles” and that the deal seemed to benefit everyone concerned.”I’m not trying to finagle a deal here where we’re getting a free-market piece of property,” he added, noting that his land is deed-restricted and that the city approved the land swap, the development approvals and the relocation and renovation of the historic cottages.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com


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