Minturn, Battle Mountain mull split
After failed agreements, developer says it keeps hitting 'brick wall' with Minturn
MINTURN — After 11 rocky years together, Minturn and a developer that once aimed to provide tens of millions of dollars in benefits to the town took a tentative step toward a separation this week.
You could call it Minturn’s version of Brexit.
The Minturn Town Council voted 6-0 to give preliminary approval Wednesday to an ordinance that approves the disconnection of 644 acres of land stretching from the Maloit Park area to the abandoned town of Gilman, setting off a negotiation period that may last through December or longer.
With the town’s recent rejection of two deals that the developer said were key to the construction of 712 homes near Bolts Lake and Tigiwon Road, a representative for the developer lamented Wednesday that it had repeatedly run into a “brick wall” with the town.
The disconnection, or de-annexation, would allow the Battle Mountain Development Co. and its related entities to pursue development of the Bolts Lake area with Eagle County’s government, leaving Minturn out of the picture.
That may mean that Minturn would lose out on concessions for and benefits from the potentially massive development — yet still feel its effects, such as increased traffic. At Wednesday’s meeting, some Minturnites expressed hope that some type of agreement could be reached that keeps the 644 acres, and future development there, under Minturn’s control.
“I think there’s still a deal to be made,” said Minturn resident Woody Woodruff. “Maybe not, but why would we walk away from the opportunity of exploring this further?”
In fact, Woodruff said he and other residents had recently met with a Battle Mountain representative, Tim McGuire, at McGuire’s request, to try to find a solution.
Some suggested some type of mediation between the developer and the town.
“Do we need a therapist in here and a mediator?” said Councilwoman Terry Armistead. “I do feel like there are conversations to be had on both sides.”
The developer’s representative at the meeting, Denver attorney Munsey L. Ayers, said the company was open to talking about how the development could still happen within the town. At the same time, he requested that the town move forward with a disconnection.
“We’d like to get to closure on these matters and not continue to be stuck in the mud spinning our wheels for an extended period of time,” Ayers said.
The town gave approval “on first reading” to an ordinance that approves the disconnection.
There are two ways to disconnect a property from a municipality. The municipality can pass a law doing so, which requires the town and the landowner to reach an agreement about how the disconnection will occur. Or the landowner can petition a court for an order of disconnection — meaning the terms of the separation would be decided by a judge, not negotiations between the two sides. Minturn Town Attorney Michael J. Sawyer compared that to a “Hard Brexit.”
Sawyer said he feared the developer would sue the town if it denied the ordinance on first reading Wednesday. A lawsuit would be costly, and would mean that the town would not be able to negotiate an agreement.
With Wednesday’s vote, the town will now negotiate an agreement with the developer that will unwind a decade of agreements. The ordinance, and the negotiated agreement, will then return to the Town Council for final approval — perhaps in six to eight weeks.
If the disconnection is approved, and the developer does pursue development with the county, it would need to start from scratch in gaining the necessary entitlements.
“I have had conversations with their counsel, but it would be premature to discuss the substance of those conversations at this time,” said Bryan Treu, Eagle County attorney, in an email. “We are just waiting to see how the disconnect gets resolved.”
What do the people want?
Two important agreements fell apart in recent months — a funding agreement and a water deal. In both cases, the developer negotiated proposed deals with the town staff — in the case of the water deal, it included the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District as well — but encountered stiff opposition from residents in Town Council meetings.
Both deals were rejected by the Town Council.
“Your staff has worked hard at times, and Battle Mountain has worked hard with staff at times, only to come running into a brick wall,” Ayers said. “The repetition of that and delaying to wait for an opportunity to do that again is not an encouraging prospect.”
Town staff and council members expressed frustration that the deals fell apart when brought up for a vote, with resident after resident coming to the council chambers lectern to decry the proposal. At Wednesday’s meeting, staff and council members encouraged town residents to communicate potential arrangements that could salvage a development within the town’s borders.
“We need to have you please tell us what is acceptable,” said Mayor Pro Tem Earle Bidez. “Is not 700 (homes)? Is it 200? Is it 50? Is it a hotel with less residential impacts? We need to understand from you so we don’t end up starting another discussion that doesn’t go anywhere.”
Battle Mountain’s 3,500-acre mountaintop property, closer to Red Cliff, is not included in the de-annexation application. In 2017, the upper parcel development plan was changed to 35-acre ranch lots, decreasing the density from about 1,000 units to about 100.
The disconnection would create three noncontiguous parts of Minturn — the main part of Minturn, the Maloit Park area, and the Battle Mountain mountaintop property.
How we got here
In December 2004, a Florida developer, the Ginn Companies, bought 5,300 acres between Minturn and Red Cliff for $32.5 million from the owners of the defunct New Jersey Zinc Mine. The original Battle Mountain plan, put forward by developer Bobby Ginn in 2005, included 1,700 homes, 36 holes of golf, a private ski area and commercial space.
In 2008, residents voted overwhelmingly to annex 4,300 acres of the Battle Mountain property into town. About 87 percent of voters favored the plan. Residents were promised $162 million in benefits, including a recreation center, library, new sidewalks, a paved bike path from Dowd Junction to Red Cliff, a new water and wastewater treatment plant and scholarships for Minturn residents.
But just as the original agreements were being signed, the economy took a nosedive.
Ginn dropped out of the development in 2009. Crave Real Estate Ventures, part-owned by Lubert Adler, the Philadelphia-based private investment company that financed the Battle Mountain project, took over the project.
The current proposal for the Bolts Lake area, submitted last year, is 130 acres of residential, 55 acres of mixed-use development and 376 acres of open space. The 712 homes would be built over four phases, potentially a mix of single-family, multifamily and apartment homes. The plan envisions retail and commercial space, as well.
Those units are all deed-restricted, meaning that only people who work an annual average of 30 hours per week can live there. That keeps the apartments out of the short-term rental pool and available to local residents.