Telluride’s “Valley Floor,” the target of a years-long condemnation proceed by the town
The Colorado Supreme Court today ruled that parks and open space are so important in Colorado cities have the right to condemn property – even outside their borders – to prevent development on land officials want for the public.
The case result announced today involved the “Valley Floor” land just outside the exclusive mountain town of Telluride, which demanded nearly 600 acres of private land owned by several corporations essentially representing Neal Blue, the owner of General Atomics which builds the nation’s Predator drone aircraft.
He had proposed several years ago building 22 homes on 64 acres of his private land, and providing new sites for a hospital and school. Then the rest of the land – 91 percent – would be placed under a conservation easement to protect it forever.
Town council officials and the San Miguel County Commission endorsed the idea, but residents of what a local newspaper publisher described as “Beverly Hills in the Mountains, Aspen south,” rejected it out of hand, demanding the entire property.
Blue’s lawyer, Thomas Ragonetti, has described it as a battle between “a group of wealthy capitalists against one individual wealthy capitalist.”
He’s told reporters Blue has found it hypocritical that those who want the land “made their fortunes under American free enterprise. They would kick, fight and scream if their property were taken like this.”
The specific question before the high court was whether a state law approved by the legislature banning Telluride’s condemnation plan was legitimate. The court decided it was not.
“Article XX (of the state constitution) grants home rule municipalities the power to condemn property for any lawful, public, local, and municipal purpose. We hold that the extraterritorial condemnation of property for open space and parks constitutes a lawful, public, local, and municipal purpose within the scope of article XX,” the majority ruled.
However, Justice Allison Eid filed a dissent, noting the constitution’s provision for “extraterritorial” condemnation rights granted to cities included needs for utilities such as “water works, light plants, power plants, transportation systems, heating plants.”
“Section 8 (of the constitution) plainly states that a home rule municipality’s ordinance, such as the one giving Telluride the authority to condemn land outside its boundaries for open space, can supersede conflicting state law … only within its own boundaries,” Eid concluded.
“The effect of today’s ruling is to cut out the General Assembly from regulating extraterritorial condemnations. The majority holds that a home rule municipality has the constitutional authority to condemn property outside of its boundaries essentially for any valid purpose – a broad standard indeed,” Eid said.
The property, if there is no further court action, will be transferred to the city, which must generate about $50 million in payment. However, that already has been set aside by the town where Tom Cruise, Daryl Hanna, diplomat Richard Holbrooke and eBay CEO Meg Whitman have residences.
Telluride, a former mining camp in southwestern Colorado, turned from ghost town to home of the elite starting in the 1970s when skiers started cruising down the hills outside of town, and developers sold it to the wealthy as an ideal location for second, third, or fourth homes.
Blue has owned the land for decades, but Telluride launched its condemnation plans in 2001.
Hannah earlier told USA Today the “Valley Floor” land “is the only thing left between it becoming another mall with a mountain and staying the historic landmark that it’s supposed to be.”
While Blue owned the land, he allowed hiking, cross-country skiing, showshoeing, hang-gliding, and camping for Telluride’s music festival. However, once the city started legal proceedings to take the land, he halted access.
“Obviously, we are very pleased with the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court,” said Mayor Stu Fraser.
City officials said one of their goals now will be to clean up old mine tailings on the land.