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November 8, 2012
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Will opponents challenge Avon settlement?

AVON, Colorado - The Avon Town Council Tuesday took a big step toward settling its long-running legal disputes with developers of the Village at Avon. But some residents are considering a challenge to that decision.

By a 5-2 vote, the council gave final approval to an ordinance that makes several changes in the Village at Avon project's original land use approvals, which date to 1998. Those changes move around commercial and residential areas at the 1,800-acre project. The agreement also adds to the amount of allowed commercial space, and will allow the developers to build a hotel on the north side of the Interstate 70 interchange at Post Boulevard.

If the settlement is completed - and there's more detail work to do on the deal - it will bring to an end a legal battle that began in 2008, when the town filed suit against the developers, alleging the developers were delinquent in $3.5 million in payments owed the town under the 1998 agreement.

The developers countersued - with a $300 million request for damages - alleging that town officials had prevented any further building at the project. At the moment, virtually the only construction at the site are the Walmart and Home Depot stores, the Traer Creek Plaza office and retail building, and the Buffalo Ridge apartments.

After years of litigation - and millions in legal fees - the parties announced a settlement agreement in October of last year, and have spent the months following the announcement hammering out the details.

Since the deal was announced, it's been opposed by a group of town residents - primarily those who live just south of the Village at Avon property between the Traer Creek Plaza building the Beaver Creek Rodeo grounds - who say the deal gives too much to the developers and creates the possibility of rampant development a stone's throw from their homes. Opponents also say the town - which is taking over street maintenance and similar jobs at the development - won't receive enough revenue from a .75 percent "fee" - a sales tax - to cover those costs.

Former council member Tamra Nottingham Underwood has been among the most vocal opponents of the deal. Underwood said Wednesday that she and other project opponents are weighing their options in the wake of Tuesday's council vote.

The only real tool opponents have is a petition drive and possible special election in an effort to overturn the ordinance.

The timeline on an effort like that would be tight. Underwood said the town charter gives opponents just 30 days after "final action" on an ordinance to gather enough valid signatures - 10 percent of the total number of votes cast in the most recent town election.

"But having spent all summer and fall at this, I don't know that anybody has the heart to challenge it," Underwood said. "It would take a lot of work, and it would take money."

Council member Amy Phillips is leaving the board Nov. 27. While council members have been advised to keep quiet about the ordinance pending a possible challenge, Phillips was willing to talk about the deal.

"This is probably the most frustrating year I've ever spent doing nothing," Phillips said. "But when it came down to it, we had to decide, do we settle, or spend $2 million a year for the next five years?"

Phillips said that amount - a combination of lost revenue and legal fees, plus the time a potential court case and appeals could take - adds up to roughly 10 percent of the town's annual budget. That, she said, is an unacceptable financial hit for the town.

"That's more money than we spend on the bus (system)," she said.

Phillips, who lives in the neighborhood near the Village at Avon, said she's had "nightmares about what's going to be in my back yard."

Despite those reservations, Phillips believes voting for the deal was the right thing to do.

While Tuesday's vote was a big step toward settling the lawsuits, and avoiding a trial scheduled for January, there's still a lot of work to do, work that will be picked up in large part by a council with two new members - Jennie Fancher and either Matt Gennett or Jake Wolf.

Phillips said "the jury's still out" on whether the settlement will be good for the town. But, she added, "This is the best alternative we have."

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Nov 8, 2012 10:26PM Published Nov 8, 2012 10:25PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.