Cordillera property owners lose last-ditch lawsuit to stop drug addiction treatment center
EAGLE — A district court judge shot down Cordillera property owners’ last shot to block a Baltimore firm from converting a hotel into an addiction treatment center.
In a 30-page ruling handed down Friday, Sept. 15, District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman said the Eagle County Commissioners were correct when they voted unanimously to allow Noah Nordheimer’s Concerted Care Group to convert The Lodge & Spa at Cordillera into a high-end health, wellness and addiction treatment center.
“We knew this would be the outcome based on the merits of the case,” Nordheimer said in an email.
Dunkelman’s ruling is the latest, and possibly last, setback for Cordillera property owners opposed to Nordheimer’s plan.
“Construction will begin very shortly,” Nordheimer said.
When it opens, patients could spend $60,000 a month for treatment there.
Nordheimer said Concerted Care Group Management has never lost a court a case or action related to zoning for addiction treatment facilities from Maryland to Colorado.
That’s 15 actions over four years, he said.
Cordillera’s property owners say their fight is not over.
“Judge Dunkelman’s opinion is clearly wrong. We shall appeal it, and we shall win,” said Thomas Wilner, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Cordillera homeowner and head of the Cordillera property owners association’s legal committee.
Use by right
All of this started when Bob Naracci, Eagle County’s former community development director, ruled that Concerted Care’s plans were a “use by right” under Cordillera’s development guidelines.
The Eagle County commissioners voted unanimously that Naracci was correct in his interpretation.
Cordillera’s property owners association sued the commissioners, arguing that the 2009 changes in Cordillera’s planned unit development regulations preclude medical facilities such as an in-patient addiction treatment center.
In his ruling Friday, Dunkelman said the commissioners were correct.
“While the plaintiffs disagree with the interpretation, that does not make it an abuse of discretion, nor does it mean this court should substitute its judgment,” Dunkelman wrote. “The Board (of county commissioners) did not, as argued by the Cordillera plaintiffs, amend the PUD under the guide of interpreting it. It made findings based upon the plain language of the PUD.”
In his ruling, Dunkelman pointed out that after the Austin, Texas, firm Behringer Harvard bought the building in 2008, the firm lost several million dollars. Dunkelman also pointed out that by 2009, only 53 Cordillera residents were members, and hotel occupancy had plunged to half its previous rate.
Behringer Harvard put The Lodge on the market, and after three years, Concerted Care Group emerged as the only serious prospect, Dunkelman wrote.
In addition to its lawsuit in district court, Cordillera also sued Nordheimer and Behringer Harvard for $100 million in federal court in Denver, seeking to stop the sale.
Federal District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson refused to halt the sale, which closed in August.
Eagle County Attorney and Interim County Manager Bryan Treu was happy with Dunkelman’s ruling.
“We appreciate the thoughtful and detailed order from the court. We hope the parties can now get past this litigation stage and find common ground in mutually benefiting the Cordillera community,” Treu wrote in an emailed statement.
Spending $136 m to help
Nordheimer and his partners say they want to help the addicted and say they’re spending $136 million to do it.
“This is a chronic disease, and people need to begin thinking about it as such. If I were opening a plastic surgery center, nobody would care. Stigmatizing addiction has to end,” Nordheimer said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.