Fight over Battle Mountain: Minturn will seek outside legal advice before considering developer’s proposal
Minturn Town Council members did not weigh a proposal from Battle Mountain developers for money owed to the town on Wednesday, nor are they likely to any time soon.
Instead, elected officials have decided to hire outside legal services to examine the town’s options when it comes to the funds it owed from the large development agreement and annexation of areas of unincorporated land surrounding town which was approved by voters in 2008. The town went through with the annexation, but the development never materialized.
The seven member council unanimously approved a $20,000 spend on legal services Wednesday after weighing the proposal on June 16 and tabling the effort. Along with continuing the consideration of the proposal to a date unspecified, the council also asked staff for more documentation regarding how much the developer owes to the town.
A special meeting was called for June 30 with council intending to weigh the proposal then, but the meeting was canceled with no explanation given at the time.
On Wednesday, Town Manager Michelle Metteer and Town Attorney Mike Sawyer formally recommended council approve a staff request seeking the outside legal opinion. Mayor John Widerman said the June 30 meeting was canceled as a result of that idea, which was recommended to the council by citizens following the June 16 meeting.
“This is basically the reason that we decided to postpone the previous special meeting,” Widerman said on Wednesday during the public hearing.
Sawyer pointed out that the existing Battle Mountain development agreements were implemented before Metteer and he worked for the town of Minturn, and throughout their respective tenures, the standard course of business had been to operate under the understanding that “Battle Mountain was not going to proceed pursuant to its original annexation.”
After operating under that premise, Sawyer said he felt it was important to have “a set of eyes on these documents that is looking at them with a clear lens, as opposed to having gone through the last — at least while I’ve been the town attorney — the last six years of fits and starts and bumps in the road that have marked the town’s interactions with Battle.”
The original 2008 concept was imagined by the Ginn Company on a parcel on Battle Mountain Pass, east of Highway 24, that would include a private ski area, as many as 10 chairlifts, 1,700 homes and two 18-hole golf courses. But the project went bankrupt and was taken over by a group that was long known as Battle Mountain Development, which rezoned the area in 2017 and sold it in 2020. The current development group, operating under the name Battle North, was left with parcels of land at Bolts Lake and Maloit Park, which it seeks to develop.
Council member Terry Armistead credited the town staff, calling out Metteer and Sawyer specifically for listening to the citizens who had been following the process since its origins in the mid-aughts.
“I think it says a lot about your character,” she told Metteer and Sawyer.
Bad faith alleged
One of the citizens who approached the town following the June 16 meeting was Lynn D. Feiger. She became a full-time resident 14 years ago, and at that time, she had already been practicing law for more than 30 years.
When Feiger addressed the council on Wednesday, she said she has now lost count on the number of years she has been reading documents as a licensed attorney in Colorado.
“I’m closing in on 50, I think,” she said.
Feiger outlined a number of issues with the Battle Mountain agreements, detailing an eight-figure total, along with a property easement, which the town could demand, and describing what she saw as bad-faith negotiating on the part of the developer.
In February, Battle North reached an agreement with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority for the district and authority to purchase the Bolts Lake site following a one-year due diligence period. The district and authority are currently evaluating the feasibility of redeveloping Bolts Lake as a water supply reservoir.
Feiger said that action by Battle North represents bad faith negotiating on their part, as the town of Minturn has a contractual right to an easement in Bolts Lake.
“It’s certainly a major, major bad faith breach to sell Bolts Lake off when they had an obligation to give us an easement in that lake for our water storage,” Feiger told the town council on Wednesday. “They have no right to sell that lake unencumbered in the way that they have.”
In a statement, Kristin Kenney Williams, the spokesperson for what is now called the Battle North project, said, “unfortunately, there is misinformation floating out there contradicting lawyers across all parties.”
“Among our priorities right now is finalizing details for this amazing Bolts Lake reservoir and all of the opportunities it brings,“ Kenney Williams said. ”As was previously shared with the public, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority are evaluating the feasibility of redeveloping the historic Bolts Lake site at the south end of Minturn as a water supply reservoir. In February, the district, authority, and Battle North LLC reached an agreement for the district and authority to purchase the Bolts Lake site following a due-diligence period.”
The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District has stated that any such project would be reviewed by multiple entities, including the town of Minturn along with several state and federal agencies.
Feiger said she thinks the negotiations for a new proposal from Battle North “are going nowhere.”
“And I can’t see how you could think otherwise in light of the bad faith of Battle Mountain,” she said.
Once the negotiations are over, Battle North owes the town of Minturn $7.3 million, Feiger said.
“They have to pay that before they can de-annex from town,” Feiger said. “We’re going to have to make a demand, and we might have to follow up with some legal action, but we can’t let Battle Mountain take away our property rights.”
“What was envisioned in 2008 is not what Minturn wants today — we have heard that loud and clear.“ Kenny Williams said. ”We have been meeting and listening with residents and business owners. The proposed revised funding agreement that Town Council has been considering would simply address how the town is reimbursed for its time — staff and consultants. The most important priority is for the town to understand a new project and vision and see the new benefits associated with it. This will happen with a revised annexation agreement.”
‘Broad and appropriate timeline’
Sawyer said the $20,000 approval for outside legal services will come out of a fund intended for such purposes.
“This outside legal review can be facilitated not out of the general fund,” he said.
The staff request was approved unanimously, with a timeline of 30 to 60 days set to find legal services.
“I think the $20,000 seems to be a reasonable estimate, and 30 to 60 days,” Widerman said. “I think it’s probably hard to find good legal council to do anything in an ultra-timely manner right now, seems like everyone’s busy, so I think that’s a broad and appropriate timeline.”