Commissioners: Cordillera decision tough but clear
September 21, 2016
EAGLE — Cordillera will be home to an addiction treatment center.
The Eagle County commissioners Tuesday approved a plan by Noah Nordheimer's Baltimore-based Concerted Care Group to buy and convert The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera into a luxury health/wellness/addiction treatment center.
When they announced their unanimous decision, disappointed and frustrated Cordillera property owners quietly filed out of the crowded Eagle County room, many shaking hands with the commissioners and thanking them for their work on the issue.
Private property rights
Public elected officials must be careful about private property rights, and among those private property rights are the rights of business owners, said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.
"The free market rather than the government has a role in determining what businesses succeed," Chandler-Henry said.
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Jeanne McQueeney said the PUD is what's written down, not what people remember about the process.
"I very much empathize with people's sentiment about what they expected when they purchased. But what we're stuck with is the words that were written down," McQueeney said. "In those 34 uses by right, this proposed use is one of them."
Commissioner Jill Ryan was married in 2009 at The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera. But their purpose is not to consider compatibility.
"That was supposed to have been done in 2009," Ryan said.
"The Lodge is a private entity, and it's allowed to be sold," Ryan said.
Michael Dunahay, Ryan's opponent in the November election, disagreed, saying elected officials should reflect the will of the people who elected them, and in this case Cordillera residents were clearly opposed to this plan.
Nordheimer is buying The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera from Austin, Texas-based Behringer Harvard.
Interpretation is everything
At ground zero is Community Development Director Bob Naracci's interpretation that the addiction treatment center is an allowed use under Cordillera regulations.
Cordillera's metro district and property owners association appealed, saying those regulations outline 34 allowed uses and an addiction treatment is not among them.
Property owners also argued that the Lodge is a social center for the community.
That it has been a social gathering place does not trump a use by right, Naracci said.
"I did not and could not deny addiction treatment. … The uses by right are for a clinic and out-patient facility … for non-critical care," Naracci said.
The Lodge is privately owned; it's not a public amenity or community center, Naracci said.
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu agreed, saying the Lodge is a private facility and Cordillera residents do not have a fundamental right to use it.
It's all about the Benjamins
In arguing for Cordillera's appeal, attorney Lew Harstead said it's a case about segregation, exclusion and corporate profits.
"It's CCG's attempt to maximize their corporate profits," Harstead said.
Any medical uses would be limited to things like cosmetic surgery, rhinoplasty and spas, under Cordillera's regulations updated in 2009, Harstead said.
"CCG's interpretation is their attempt to hammer a square peg into a round hole," Harstead said.
Tom Ragonetti's firm was hired by Lodge owner Behringer Harvard to handle those 2009 changes to Cordillera's regulations to include medical facilities.
"They had an opportunity almost seven years ago to challenge it, and they didn't," Ragonetti said.
Ragonetti said their objections are now based on the notion that a public facility and public access must be preserved.
"This position is disingenuous at best and misleading at worst," Ragonetti said.
Comments were passionate
Kristen Beau Howard said our community has a negative stigma regarding addiction. Ironically, this is precisely the sort of thing that fuels addition.
She said rhetoric of possible criminal activity by patients is simply "a fear-based assumption."
"Let us not lose sight of the purpose rehabilitation centers serve. Victims of addiction are there to get well," Howard said.
Ed Shriner, president of the Cordillera property owners association, said that throughout the nation people are growing discouraged with government.
"I'm not addicted, but even if I were I could not afford $60,000 to go there," Shriner said.
Dr. Doug Hoerner is a local anesthesiologist and said that the proposed facility meets the definition of a hospital, and Cordillera is not the right place for it.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935.