Land board kills Brotman contracts
After eight years of disputes, the land board decided not to close the transactions on two Eagle County parcels. Board members decided the terms of the original contracts on the Arrowhead and Berry Creek properties were fatally flawed. A previous land board reached a deal in 1996 to sell the pair of 600-acre tracts to part-time Beaver Creek resident Robert Brotman.
“This is a win for the people of Eagle County, and for school districts across the state,” said Eagle County commissioner Tom Stone, who helped a wide variety of area residents persuade the land board to void the deal.
The land board will return Brotman his $1.4 million in earnest money, plus the interest it has earned.
“We probably saved poor Mr. Brotman some money, because he could have invested that money in the stock market,” said Stone.
Brotman’s attorney, Jay Baker, would not comment until he had more information. Attempts to contact Brotman Friday were unsuccessful.
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“I think the right thing happened today,” said Cindy Cohagen, executive director of the Eagle County Land Trust. “It’s certainly the right decision for the State Land Board and for the people of Eagle County, who will be able to enjoy two tremendous pieces of open space, hopefully forever.”
The land board decision ends years of wrangling through legislation and lobbying and comes after negotiations between the land board and Brotman broke down.
Greg Walcher, director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has been at the issue’s epicenter since before last year’s legislative session. He had high praise for the land board’s decision.
“I think they have been working in good faith for several months, trying to come to some solution that would satisfy all parties,” said Walcher. “They finally came to the conclusion nothing could, and voted Friday to void the contracts.
“It was a courageous move on the land board’s part,” Walcher added. “They had to come to a difficult decision, but in the final analysis it was the right decision.”
Local efforts prevail
Local environmental activist Andy Wiessner called the battle against the proposed sale “a remarkable display of bi-partisan support.”
“We owe a debt of gratitude to Attorney General Ken Salazar, the State Land Board, Jack Taylor and Al White, Tom Stone, Carl Miller, Greg Walcher and so many others,” said Wiessner. “It’s great to win one.”
Wiessner said the 1,280 acres is perfect for the proposed open space tax, scheduled for this November’s general election.
“If you want a poster child for the open space tax, this is it,” Wiessner said. “The seed money the open space tax would provide would make it possible to protect this land by purchasing conservation easements.”
Stone took issue, however, with what he said was Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar’s suggestion of a negotiated settlement.
“Obviously the attorney general was wrong,” said Stone. “I’m glad the State Land Board did not take his advice and negotiate a settlement that would unjustly enrich Mr. Brotman. You have to hand it to the State Land Board. They had to overturn a decision by a previous land board, despite being under tremendous pressure from all sides.
In arguing the case before the Legislature last winter, Baker positioned the issue as a private property rights matter.
“I’m a strong private property rights advocate, but this was always about public property and the public schools,” said Stone. “I now feel that all my trips to the State Capitol were worth it. We should not have to buy our way out of problems that other people initiated.”
Walcher said the decision gives the land a reprieve from becoming 25-acre lots for trophy homes.
The story so far
Brotman signed a contract in 1996 with the State Land Board to purchase the property. He told members of the Legislature he wants to develop 18 35-acre parcels on the 640-acre Arrowhead parcel, next to Arrowhead in Edwards. He said he wants to trade the Berry Creek parcel, 640 acres above Singletree, to the U.S. Forest Service.
Public outcry in Eagle County reached Gov. Owens, who instructed Walcher to invoke a 1973 law giving the Director of the Colorado Division of Natural Resources the power to halt any State Land Board deals he deemed aren’t in the public interest. That sent the whole thing to the Legislature, which killed a bill that would have allowed Eagle County to put the land under conservation easements.
Brotman could send the whole thing back to the courts. But Wiessner said two previous decisions will make that a tough road.
The Denver District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Brotman’s 1996 contract with the State Land Board is not valid. The state Supreme Court threw out the case, saying that the person who filed the suit, Dick Scudder, did not have standing because he was not connected to the school system.
The State Land Board manages 3 million acres of public land in Colorado, with the proceeds going to public schools. The State Land Board has worked deals across the state similar to Brotman’s, planning to buy office buildings, parking lots and other revenue-generating commercial properties.
Randy Wyrick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or firstname.lastname@example.org