Cotton Ranch lawsuit begins in Eagle | VailDaily.com
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Cotton Ranch lawsuit begins in Eagle

EAGLE, Colorado ” The former partners in Gypsum’s Cotton Ranch subdivision haven’t been able to settle their differences in nearly four years of legal wrangling. Now Vince Cook and Tim Garton are letting District Judge Fred Gannett settle their many arguments in a 10-day civil trial that began Tuesday.

Vince Cook and Tim Garton have been involved in a legal battle over the subdivision and golf course ” which opened for play in 1997 “for nearly four years. The two had previously joined forces to develop the Terrace subdivision at Eagle.

That project ” a relatively straightforward deal to sell land to people who would then build homes ” caught the early part of Eagle’s growth boom. Lot sales were finished in just more than a couple of years.

Cotton Ranch, an attempt to duplicate that success, has had a more checkered past. It’s far more complicated, with a golf course and private club attached to the project. It also has several companies ” mostly run by Garton and his wife, Mara ” involved in everything from real estate sales to construction to running the golf course.

Because of that complexity, both sides brought multiple boxes of documents to the trial’s opening day, and, with the opening arguments out of the way, lawyers were promising to put the first witness ” Cook ” on the witness stand for perhaps two days.

The opening arguments indicate that the sides don’t agree on much. In the trial’s first morning, lawyers each accused the other side of bad faith and less-than-honest dealing. And many of the arguments are going to get technical. For instance, one point of contention is whether money Garton and Cook pumped into the golf course management company will be defined as “capital” contributions or if that money was loaned with the expectation of repayment.

The two sides can’t even agree how to pay a special auditor brought in to make sense of the project’s books. Gannett said that question will probably have to be solved in a separate action after the main trial.

Among the questions being argued though, is perhaps the main one ” if the company that controls and manages the golf course and the remaining lots for sale should even exist.

“An ever more crushing series of losses is accumulating,” Cook’s lead attorney Jim Bailey said, adding that the company doesn’t have the assets or the ability to reverse those losses. Bailey said Cook wants the company to be closed down and a receiver should be hired to sell the remaining assets.

Attorney Gary Cohen, Garton’s lawyer, said Cotton Ranch still has some assets. There are still lots for sale ” although those are subject to foreclosure from a buyer currently in default ” as well as about 300 unsold golf club memberships.

The memberships and the lots that are apparently coming back to the company mean there’s still a reason to keep the business running, Cohen said.

The former partners are also at odds over the number and amount of payments Garton’s companies have taken for club management, sales commissions and other work. If the original plans to turn over the golf course to members comes to pass, the management company could also be entitled to recover about $1 million in improvements made over the last decade.

Cook’s side believes Garton and his wife, Mara, have taken more than they’re entitled to. Garton’s side maintains that it was his companies that did all the work of turning a former ranch into a golf course subdivision, and that the payments made so far have been appropriate.

No matter what Gannett eventually decides, the operation at Cotton Ranch appears troubled. The golf course, which is open now, may be sold at a foreclosure auction. The company that has leased the golf carts and other equipment to the course has also started foreclosure proceedings against Cotton Ranch.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for March 27.

Vail Daily business editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or at smiller@vaildaily.com.


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