Ranch suing county over land-use decision
September 19, 2008
ASPEN ” A group of developers has sued the Pitkin County Commissioners over the commissioners’ insistence that a purportedly historic road right of way through the developers’ land be kept free of development as a way of ensuring its continued enjoyment by the public.
The suit was filed on Sept. 17 in Pitkin County District Court by the owners of the Aspen Valley Ranch in Woody Creek, who hope to build luxury homes on a portion of the ranch land. Much of the ranch already has been developed, and the developer’s attorney, Dave Myler, said the road issue is not holding up work on the portion that is about to be developed.
“There is no trail on that route today,” Myler said. “It’s hayfields.”
He said the reason for the suit is not to squeeze money out of the county, and that it is intended more as a way of clearing up the title to the land in question. Still, the suit does ask a judge to order the county to pay all costs and attorney fees that arise out of the case.
The existence of the road was pointed out by a neighboring landowner, Howard Vagneur, who wrote in a letter to the commissioners last April that a public road goes through the segment of the AVR property, based on a plat dated 1888.
The commissioners, after consulting with their attorney, John Ely, concluded that there does appear to be a road marked on the 120-year old plat.
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And, explained commissioner Michael Owsley, “If there is a county road there, we don’t vacate them, essentially. It’s viewed as public property, and we don’t give away public property.”
The suit, among other things, accuses the commissioners of exceeding their jurisdiction, abusing their discretionary authority and violating a state law that prohibits local governments from “imposing any discretionary condition upon land use approval unless the condition is based on duly adopted standards.”
Because the county has adopted no such standards, reasons the lawsuit, the county has no claim on the road.
The plaintiffs, Aspen Valley Ranch LLC out of Delaware, note in their lawsuit that while state law does provide authority for local governments to build highways on public lands, the ranch property “ceased to be public lands” as defined in the statute in either 1887 or 1888, the date that the property originally was homesteaded by the Brasson and Bourg families.
Plus, according to the lawsuit, “there was no evidence to suggest that the road depicted on the 1888 map was a public road.”