Four Seasons annexation clears technical hurdle

by Rick Carroll / THE ASPEN TIMES / / In The News

The Aspen City Council on Monday approved a resolution that deems a swath of property on West Hopkins Avenue eligible for annexation, a decision elected officials emphasized does not reflect any positions on a pending Four Seasons resort eyed for the land.

Monday’s hearing was a technical step the City Council was required to take because of state annexation laws. Now that the council has deemed it eligible for annexation, a pathway has been established for it to ultimately fold the property from Pitkin County into city limits.

“This is not a decision on annexation,” City Attorney Jim True told the council. “This is not a comment on appropriateness of annexation. It’s just a technical step statutorily mandated.”

The council’s vote was 3-1, with Bert Myrin dissenting. Councilman Art Daily recused himself because he practices with the Holland & Hart law firm, which represents developer Cisneros Real Estate. It is controlled by Hispanic media giants the Cisneros family, owners of the property at 705 W. Hopkins Ave.

Cisneros Real Estate is developing a Four Seasons in the Dominican Republic and has designs to build a 140-unit Four Seasons in Aspen that also would include 31 fractional-lodging units and four free-market residences. They have yet to file a land-use application, which is contingent on annexation. Annexing the 6.6 acres of the 19.6-acre property, none of which is currently zoned for lodging and includes a Victorian-style home, would allow the developers to negotiate with the city to create a zone for lodging.

The City Council is not legally required to annex the property, True and Mayor Steve Skadron noted.

“Annexation would have to be done by ordinance,” True said. “This is just a resolution considering its eligibility for annexation.”

Myrin voted against the annexation-eligibility issue because he disagreed that the land is in an “urbanized” area of Aspen. Being urban is a state requirement for annexing land into a municipality.

“I don’t know how we can find that this is urban,” Myrin said.

Likewise, Aspen resident Ward Hauenstein argued during the public-comment portion of the meeting that the council could find the area is not urban and put an end to the Four Seasons talks.

“I don’t see a 140-room hotel on that parcel,” he said. “If we can nip this in the bud now on the definition of what is urban, I would love to see it.”

A Holland & Hart lawyer said the property is urban — at least by state legal definitions — because at least one-sixth of its perimeter borders the city.

Council members also expressed some frustration with the process. Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she felt the council was “hijacked” by the process because a Four Seasons materializing at that spot seems remote. She said the council eventually will “say we’re not interested.”

Patrick Freeman, president of Cisneros Real Estate, spoke briefly to the council and said he understands the community mood about the Four Seasons development.

“It’s a very complex project and a complex process,” he said. “And there are a myriad of issues in the community that need to be addressed. I think we all know it’s going to take a lot of community interaction, ... and that’s fully our intent.”

Several nearby residents of 705 W. Hopkins Ave. attended the meeting but did not speak. An attorney for one of the neighbors also was present.

“There will be ample opportunity in the future to discuss the annexation,” True said.

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