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Protest over Cozy Point lease bid

ASPEN – A group of equestrians looking to take over operations at the city-owned Cozy Point Ranch have formally protested a decision to extend a lease to the current operator for another decade.

Red Barn LLC, represented by Aspen attorney Bob Hoover, submitted a formal protest on June 4 with City Manager Steve Barwick over the recommendation that Cozy Point LLC, run by Monroe Summers, should be considered for a 10-year lease.

Red Barn LLC, Cozy Point LLC and another ranch operator in March presented detailed proposals to run the equestrian center and open space to a nine-member citizen task force. The majority of the task force recommended that Summers’ operation get the lease. The city’s parks and open space department is currently negotiating a lease with Summers and will present it on June 22 for the Aspen City Council to consider.

Summers has operated Cozy Point Ranch since 2000 and the lease expires in April 2010.

Red Barn LLC is protesting the parks and open space department’s decision to carry the task force’s recommendation forward, arguing that the selection was not based objectively.

The protest asks Barwick to take administrative action, review the decision and reopen the request-for-proposals process.

City Attorney John Worcester said it was the task force’s decision to choose Cozy Point LLC – not city staff’s. Regardless, Barwick can defer the review to the council. But since the council already will be reviewing the proposed lease, administrative action isn’t necessary.

“It’s all moot,” Worcester said. “They’ll have their chance [to appeal to the council June 22].”

Red Barn LLC, which is headed by H2J Riding Camp owner Judy Hill Nelson and her business partner, Melissa Wight, as well as some of their customers and former ranch users, have complained to the city about the unsafe and unsanitary conditions on the property, as well as neglected land stewardship and an inadequate amount of rent paid by Summers to the local government.

The proposal includes a guaranteed $1 million in revenue in the form of rent paid to the city over the life of the lease. The group also proposes to infuse $141,000 for immediate improvements that address health and safety on the ranch, including replacing the footing in the arena and fencing around the property. It also plans to clean up the nearby stream, remove the noxious weeds from the property and improve facilities at their own expense.

Summers has denied the claims made by Red Barn representatives, and has suggested that the group is self-serving and has launched an attack against his operation because it wasn’t selected as the preferred lease holder.

Red Barn representatives say they are only doing what is in the best interest of the city by improving the property and offering free community programs. It was only after they saw the conditions on the ranch that they decided to insist on a request-for-proposals process and make a pitch to operate the facility.

csack@aspentimes.com


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