Open-space spat continues in Telluride |

Open-space spat continues in Telluride

TELLURIDE ” The plot continues to thicken in Telluride, where the town is attempting to condemn 570 acres of empty land at the entrance to the box-canyon valley.

Although a jury in February ruled that landowner Neal Blue is entitled to get $50 million, Blue is now trying to block the condemnation.

The San Diego Union-Tribune explains that Blue bought 880 acres in the valley in 1983 for a reported $6 million, and had plans to build a golf course and assorted real estate. Blunted by Telluride, he later announced plans to annex to Mountain Village, Telluride’s relatively new sibling town. That ignited the plan to condemn the property.

“The owner is very, very angry at the notion that he should have property expropriated by Telluride that is outside the borders of Telluride, that is bigger than the town of Telluride itself, and that is to be used for their own private playground,” Blue’s attorney, Denver-based Tom Ragonetti, told the Union-Tribune.

In 2004, Ragonetti helped persuade Colorado legislators to adopt a law that sharply curtailed the ability of home-rule municipalities to condemn land outside their borders and expressly blocked Telluride from condemning land outside its borders for parks and open space.

Soon after adoption of the law, however, a district court judge in Telluride ruled the law unconstitutional. Blue is now appealing that decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. Town officials told The Telluride Watch they were expecting the appeal.

“We are very confident with our position here,” said Mayor John Pryor.

But Pryor was expressly displeased by a lawsuit filed by his predecessor as Telluride mayor, John Steel. That lawsuit alleges a procedural error and, more interestingly, jury misconduct.

This latter allegation relies on a report by an alternate juror that jurors from Delta who did not believe in condemnation said they wanted to make sure Telluride paid for its action. The trial was held in Delta, an old farming town located about 80 miles from Telluride.

“Ridiculous,” responded Pryor, the current mayor, to this seemingly friendly lawsuit. In its own legal response, the town called Steel’s suit an “unnecessary distraction.”

Steel, the former mayor, said the lawsuit just preserves a legal option in case Telluride can’t come up with the $50 million that the jury awarded Blue.

The formal deadline for the town’s payment is May 21. The Telluride Daily Planet told of letters arriving with $10 bills, $20 bills, and an occasional $20,000 check. The Denver Post tells of fund-raisers in cow costumes ” cows representing the existing undeveloped parcel ” to ring bells and collect spare change from passersby.

“What you have in Telluride is a large constituency of people who moved here because they are of the mind that the Earth is imperiled,” Seth Cagin, publisher of The Watch told the San Diego newspaper. “To them it’s important to draw the line and take a stand ” and just say no.”

“It’s more like entering a national park than entering a ski resort,” said one of those preservationists, San Miguel County Commissioner Joan May.

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