Land Board settles Edwards dispute
The Colorado Land Board has hammered out an agreement to buy Robert Brotman’s interest in two Land Board parcels astride I-70 above Edwards.
The deal, reportedly worth $7 million, more than doubles Brotman’s original investment for the two 640-acre parcels. In 1996, Brotman reached an agreement to buy the two parcels for $1.4 million and $1.8 million, respectively. That agreement was reached on the eve of a change in the makeup of the Land Board as Colorado voters prepared to stop such deals forever.
This deal closes a long and contentious dispute over the two school trust properties. Local and state officials have been battling in court and boardrooms since 1996 over the so-called Arrowhead and Berry Creek parcels.
State Land Board President Dennis Brinker said that under the agreement, Brotman will relinquish his interest in the two 640-acre parcels, which will allow the Land Board to enter into a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service to trade the parcels for Forest Service land of increasing value. Brinker said the Land Board staff is working with Minturn and Eagle County officials over future land use possibilities for the property to be obtained through these exchanges.
Between 1996 and now, the litigation surround the proposed sale propelled the case all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Brotman had said he wanted to develop 18 multi-million-dollar, 35-acre homesites on one of the parcels near Arrowhead, and trade the other one, north of the interstate, for another parcel of public land adjoining the first parcel.
“We are very happy to finally resolve this issue and create a win-win situation for everyone involved,” said Brinker. “Most importantly, the beneficiaries of the school trust, Colorado’s school children, will be the biggest beneficiary from these successful negotiations.”
Long and winding road
During the course of squabbling, Brotman, a Beaver Creek resident, crossed swords with Dick Scudder, a neighbor who owns MediaNews Group, the holding company for the Denver Post. Scudder sued the Land Board for not following due process, claiming it rushed the deal through before the makeup of the board changed.
In his lawsuit, Scudder asserted the land was sold below market value, but the property and transaction were not properly advertised in a local newspaper. Scudder offered $3 million for the parcel nearest him. Too late, the Land Board said.
In 2001, Gov. Bill Owens and Greg Walcher, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, nixed the deal in the face of public outcry over the swiftness and mechanics of the deal, and the potential for development in areas where none had been planned.
A bill allowing Eagle County to put the parcels under a conservation easement was killed by the state Legislature. The Eagle County School Board also got into the act and sued Brotman, with Scudder agreeing to pay legal expenses for the district.
In 2002, the Land Board voted to void Brotman’s contract. Brotman sued the board, claiming it reneged on the contract.
After the suit rattled through district and appellate courts, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered a settlement.
At one point, the Land Board approached Eagle County’s commissioners for help in funding a $10 million conservation easement to keep the controversial parcel from being developed. The commissioners balked.
Brotman could not be reached for comment Friday. Brotman’s attorney, Jay Baker, did not return phone calls.