Pending Government Lawsuits Could Pose Big Impact on Future Developments

~ by Bob Volpe and Rick Langenberg ~

There is an old saying, “You can’t please everybody all the time.”

When the displeased parties cannot reach an amicable resolution, lawyers get involved, lawsuits are filed, and the issues often wind up in the court.

Such has been the case with several key development issues in the last year involving the city of Woodland Park, the Downtown Development Association and the Saddle Club, along with the city of Cripple Creek.

Perhaps the most talked about lawsuit this year is one filed by Arden Weatherford, owner of BierWerks against the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) over a plot of land on Woodland Station.

This situation has been brewing for some time.

The story began when the DDA was supposed to give his group title to the 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.

And 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.

Both sides presented their arguments in court and the issue is now in the hands of Judge Gregory G. Lyman who has yet to make a decision in the case. Many local business leaders and high profile city representatives testified in court last summer.

Another legal battle involves a fight between a local businessman and the city of Woodland Park.

Mac McClung, owner of Bad Rock Automotive, on Hwy. 24, is suing the city over what McClung contends is a violation of his constitutional rights, by requiring him to construct a sidewalk in front of his business.

City zoning requires new businesses to either construct sidewalks, curb, and gutter adjoining their business, or pay a “fee-in-lieu of” such construction.

The fee-in-lieu of payments collected by the city are part of the 410 street construction and improvement fund. They are dedicated specifically to building sidewalks in other parts of town.

The odd part of the city’s requirement in McClung’s case is, the sidewalk they want him to construct does not connect to an existing sidewalk for hundreds of feet in either direction.

McClung’s attorney Steven Klenda gave a statement to TMJ News regarding the case. He said, “Governments often extort private property owners who want to improve their property by forcing them to pay fees or build unnecessary improvements to obtain a zoning or land-use permit. Most of the time, they get away with it because it is cheaper to comply than fight.”

This case is pending. The city would not comment on ongoing litigation.

Another Woodland Park-based lawsuit in the works pits members of The Ute Pass Saddle Club against a group of developers, the consortium of M3XP2, and even the Saddle Club board of directors. It deals with property on the site of the old sewer treatment ponds, on Hwy. 24.

The suit was filed by members of the Saddle Club, who contend the agreement to sell the property was not approved by the membership of the club. Instead, they claim it was approved by the board in violation of the club’s charter and by-laws, which state that such a sale must be approved by the entire membership.

This situation is further complicated by the recent approval by the city council to allow M3XP2 to construct a self-storage facility on the property, before the conclusion of the suit.

This suit has yet to be given a date for the start of the trial.

Casino Expansion Fight

The city of Cripple Creek is not immune from recent legal fights.

The other big pending lawsuit in the region deals with the fight over the casino expansion of Bronco Billy’s, capped by plans for a proposed 200-room, six-story hotel and mega parking garage and a spree of amenities. Altogether, this represents a $100 million development bid, proposed by the owners of Bronco Billy’s, Full House Resorts.

At issue is a unanimous decision by the council to designate the proposed development as a project of special merit, allowing Billy’s to have more leeway in abiding by historic preservation restrictions. For example, this gives Billy’s the right to demolish several old buildings surrounding the property area if they meet certain conditions. Also, they would be granted a major street vacation. The special merit designation was part of a series of approvals made by the city council in the late spring. 

Several adjacent casino companies, such as Triple Crown and Century, have challenged this special merit ruling by the council. A lawsuit against Billy’s and the city was filed last May.

Last week, Interim City Administrator Ray White told TMJ that the legal case is still pending, and the expansion project is right on schedule. Work is expected to start on the first phase shortly, the construction of the parking garage.

“The lawsuit is going through the halls of justice,” quipped White, who doesn’t predict a fast resolution “These things take a lot of time.”

A lot is riding on this case, as the project is dubbed as a signature development in Cripple Creek’s bid as a destination area. 

But critics of the development question if the city is establishing an unfair playing field and is violating its commitment towards maintaining the historic character of the community.