St. Regis Aspen joins housing fight |

St. Regis Aspen joins housing fight

Carolyn SackariasonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The St. Regis has joined a legal battle against a property owner who is attempting to lift the deed restriction on an apartment building that was set aside for hotel employees.Starwood Aspen Realty LLC and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., which operate and own the St. Regis in Aspen, this month filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit levied by Arnold Meyerstein against the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA).Meyerstein, trustee of the Meyerstein Trust, sued APCHA in April, claiming the agency had gone beyond its authority in regulating a deed-restricted housing project he owns.In 2002, Meyerstein bought Ute City Place, an affordable housing complex at 909 E. Cooper Avenue for $2.1 million.Meyerstein claims the housing authoritys rent controls on units at Ute City Place are unfair and that it is unconstitutional for a municipality to impose rent restrictions on privately owned residences.The suit asks the court to have the property quieted, and to remove any covenant or ordinance imposing rent control, citing constitutional amendments about rights to exclusive use of ones own property.But APCHA argues that in order for the hotel to get approvals to be built in the late 1980s, the developers agreed to build Ute City Place to house hotel employees. That land-use agreement is legally binding, city and housing officials argue.Today, more than three dozen local workers live in the building, which has 22 units six studio units, 12 one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units. Rents range from $745 to $1,388 a month.If Meyerstein wins the case, those employees would have to pay free-market rent prices or move.The Starwood corporation has intervened in order to protect those units and its employees.Starwood Aspen and Starwood Hotels are, respectively, the owner and operator of that hotel, now known as the St. Regis Aspen Hotel, writes Chris Heaphey, an attorney for Holland & Hart LLP, in his motion to intervene on behalf of Starwood. They therefore are intended beneficiaries of the dedication, which not only guarantees the availability of housing for their employees, but housing at favorable rental rates.Heaphey also argues that Starwoods interest is not adequately represented by APCHA or the city of Aspen, and as a result, legal intervention is necessary.While APCHA and the city have motivation to defend against plaintiffs claims, that motivation is materially different from that of the Starwood entities and is reasonably likely, therefore, to lead to alternative strategy for resolution of the case, the motion says.But in the eyes of housing officials, the St. Regis involvement is a welcome addition.This is very good news for us as we now have another, very powerful, private sector participant which also desires to protect the deed restriction (that gives them first right to house their employees), wrote APCHA Executive Director Tom McCabe in an e-mail.APCHA board member Ron Erickson said a public-private fight against Meyerstein will give momentum to the legal arguments that will be presented.I think its great that we have the support of the private sector, he said.Tom Smith, an Aspen-based lawyer who represents APCHA, said the St. Regis involvement can only help his case.Its a pretty graphic way to show the court that these units fill a need in the community, he

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