Developer files lawsuit, restraining order against town of Minturn
Belden Place developers say town is giving preferential treatment to Minturn North developers
The town of Minturn is being sued by a developer seeking 42 units on the 1200 block of Main Street, and a restraining order issued Monday is preventing the town from discussing it.
That’s what residents were told on Wednesday at the town’s regular council meeting; several had turned out to hear the latest on the development, known as Belden Place, and the council’s agenda included action items which would rescind the already-issued approvals on the project.
But those action items had to be continued in deference to the restraining order, Mayor Earle Bidez said on Wednesday. The restraining order will expire 14 days from Monday, at which time, “we’ll see if we can’t have the lawyers talk this thing through,” Bidez said.
The Belden Place complaint takes aim at the town’s moratorium on the allocation of water taps for new-build construction projects requiring more than three single-family equivalents.
The moratorium has been deemed necessary by the town, which claims that additional water supplies can’t be made available without risking potential water usage curtailment in times of shortage.
The moratorium commenced in April of 2020 and references the first phase of a different development, known as Minturn North, which had already submitted an application prior to that time.
“Based on water system capacity, the water necessary to serve the first phase of the (Minturn North) PUD is currently available,” according to the moratorium, “should the application be approved by the town council following the processes for review and approval of the preliminary plan for planned unit development outlined with the code, the town may enter into an agreement with the applicant that commits the town water system to serve the first phase of the PUD up to 70 SFEs in exchange for the pre-payment of water system improvement fees by the applicant.”
The moratorium doesn’t state how long it will remain in effect, but the Town Council ordinance enacting the moratorium says the ordinance shall be reviewed by council every 12 months and “may be continued for an additional twelve month period by majority vote.”
The Belden Place complaint takes issue with the town’s failure to conduct a review within the first 12 months of the moratorium, saying the moratorium was renewed as a result of a request for new taps made by Belden Place.
“(Belden Place) submitted a specific application to the town council and requested water taps on or around Dec. 6,” according to the complaint. “(Belden Place) asked for its Dec. 6 request to be placed on the agenda for town council’s Feb. 16 meeting. Although the water moratorium states that it shall be reviewed every twelve months and it may be continued after such review, Minturn had never reviewed it since enacting it on May 6, 2020. In what cannot be a coincidence, Minturn put on the agenda for the Feb. 16, 2022 Town Council meeting, a business item to ‘renew’ [i.e., not “review”] a moratorium on the allocation of water taps for new build construction projects requiring more than three single family equivalent units [i.e., the water moratorium].”
The Belden Place complaint alleges that the town and Minturn North “promulgated the water moratorium together to the exclusion of other, similarly situated parties” and the moratorium prioritizes Minturn North’s needs over those of Belden Place.
‘Never mentioned a lawsuit’
While the town of Minturn has not yet issued a formal response to the allegations, town staff detailed some of the circumstances surrounding the complaint in the council’s May 4 meeting packet.
Belden Place’s complaint was issued March 15 and the town, not realizing it was being sued, approved the project on March 16.
“Developer’s longtime representative Jena Skinner was present at the March 16 hearing,” according to an April 29 memo from the town’s attorneys. “Jena spoke on multiple occasions during the public hearing and never mentioned that a lawsuit against the town had been filed. Further, from reviewing video of the March 16 meeting, it appears that attorney Jim Stovall was present in the audience sitting next to Jena Skinner. Mr. Stovall’s law office had filed the complaint one day earlier. Mr. Stovall did not inform the town that his office had filed the litigation … the fact that the litigation had been filed was a material fact under the town code and concealing the existence of the complaint being on file with the court prevented the town from properly implementing its code provisions. Mr. Stovall’s office did not inform the town that the complaint had been filed until April 1, 2022.”
Minturn town code provides a mechanism that stays any processing or issuance of approvals in the event that litigation is filed.
After learning of the litigation in April, the town added action items to the May 4 council agenda to rescind the Belden Place approvals so a stay could be placed on the project.
“The purpose of a stay is to preserve the status quo while legal proceedings continue,” the town attorneys state in their April 19 memo.
After receiving the restraining order on Monday, town staff recommended council table the rescinding ordnance to a later date.
The Monday issuance of the restraining order, however, coming several days after the town published its meeting agenda, meant it was too late to get word out to all of the people who had already planned on attending Wednesday’s meeting. People who showed up looking for information on Belden Place were issued an apology from the council.
“When there’s a temporary restraining order that says we can’t have a hearing on this issue, we have to comply with that,” said Council member Lynn Feiger.