In an executive session on November 22, the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA) met with their lawyer to discuss pending legal action against them.
Arden Weatherford, potential Woodland Station land developer and owner of BierWerks, is suing the DDA for a breach of contract.
The potential of legal action against the DDA has been expected for several months, according to DDA and city leaders. Relations between Weatherford and his partners and DDA representatives have completely deteriorated since last summer.
With both sides making wildly contradicting allegations, one fact is clear:The issue will be settled at the Teller County Courthouse. The DDA and Weatherford have been negotiating over the development of Woodland Station since 2011, but five years down the road, Woodland Station remains a vacant lot in the heart of downtown. Weatherford had originally proposed plans for a European-style beer garden area and a multi-use housing development.
On January 11, 2016 Weatherford hand delivered a notice of default to then Executive Director of the DDA, Brian Fleer, who has since resigned and moved out of the area. The default letter claims that the DDA failed to deliver title of Parcel #1 of Lot #2 at Woodland Station as agreed. The default letter also says that the DDA stalled the developer’s efforts to legally subdivide the property as required by repeatedly tabling discussion of the subject. A sticky note was later attached to the notice of default by someone at the DDA stating, “Do Not hand out at the 2/2/16 mtg per Fleer.”
A few days later, on January 15, the DDA presented a letter of default to Weatherford, claiming that he had failed to move forward with developing Woodland Station in a timely or contractual manner. They gave him the opportunity to cure the situation before his contract would be terminated.
Then on March 7, 2016, the DDA notified Weatherford that his 2013 disposition and development contract with them was null and void. The DDA says it ended the contract due to Weatherford’s failure to perform. DDA Treasurer, Tanner Coy, alleges that Weatherford and his partners failed to get an approved development plan from the city for Woodland Station and failed to produce evidence of approved financing.
But according to Weatherford, the DDA approved their concept plan for Woodland Station back on November 5, 2013, and the deadline for them to get their financing approved wouldn’t have occurred until April 1, 2017.
Weatherford’s lawsuit contends that the DDA was supposed to give his group title to property at Woodland Station in exchange for them purchasing the adjacent Amerigas property and removing the hazardous old gas tanks from the site. On September 12, 2013, Weatherford bought the Amerigas property and the tanks were removed by October 8, 2013. However, the DDA did not deliver the land.
The DDA also contends that Weatherford’s proposed development would not have been a fair market value return on the land he would have received. Weatherford would have gotten land at Woodland Station for free if he had developed it in a manner equal or greater to the value of the land. Weatherford wants to build a mixed used development including a beer garden, residences, and retail space.
Weatherford in return alleges that a March 2, 2012 letter from the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to the city of Woodland Park requiring a new traffic flow study at Woodland Station was not presented to him until 2014, after he had entered into a development contract with the DDA. In August 2014, the DDA agreed to commission and conduct an updated traffic study, but they never followed through.
The DDA says it needed to end the contract with Weatherford to legally free up the encumbrances on the land. They also recently took action to declare top soil stored on the property by Weatherford as abandoned. The DDA is now moving forward with plans to turn Woodland Station into an events center until such time as it can be further developed.
Now Weatherford is fighting back with a law suit, claiming that it was the DDA who failed to perform its end of the bargain. He claims that the DDA is dysfunctional and lacks good communication skills.
“Reasonable people can disagree,” said Weatherford. “But reasonable people have been outnumbered in the DDA. We will trust the court system.”
The DDA has three weeks to file its response to his suit with the Teller County Court, which will review the case.
However, according to Coy, the suit was improperly served to the Woodland Park city clerk, who is not a DDA representative. It is unclear whether or not this will affect the progress of the suit.
Coy also claims that the city inadvertently gave Weatherford copies of confidential records, including DDA documents that were protected by attorney/client privilege. According to Coy, the release of these records could give Weatherford an unfair advantage in the law suit. Weatherford has copies of DDA documents which he obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
If his law suit is successful, Weatherford hopes to get title to the land at Lot #2 at Woodland Station, and proceed with his development as originally planned.
The DDA would also like to see development at Woodland Station. Their current plan to turn the site into an events hub is a temporary move to make the land attractive and productive until such time as a developer builds on the site. According to Coy, that could still be Weatherford if their current legal differences are resolved.