TELLURIDE – In just a few minutes, following two swift and unanimous votes by the Telluride Town Council, the decades-long legal battle won, lost and finally won again, creating a bitter rift in the community in the process, reached its ultimate conclusion Tuesday, with the annexation of the Valley Floor into the town’s municipal boundaries.
“We are now 570 acres larger than we were five minutes ago,” said Mayor Stu Fraser, following the second reading of two ordinances that came before council on first reading three weeks ago, when they also received unanimous approval.
The first ordinance authorized the annexation of the Valley Floor into town limits; the second amended the town Land Use Code to create a new Open Space CE (Conservation Easement) Zone District, and rezoned the Valley Floor to fit that designation.
Previously, the property held the San Miguel County designation of Planned Unit Development Reserve
“It’s a great move; I think that was a wise decision,” said Gary Hickcox, executive director of the San Miguel Conservation Foundation, which holds the conservation easement protecting the property from development in perpetuity.
Until some 10,000 years ago, this gateway to Telluride was covered with ice, until the last glacier receded, making the land suitable for future habitation.
By the early 21st century the Valley Floor was the subject of an arduous legal battle between its former owner, the San Miguel Valley Corp., and the Town of Telluride.
In June 2002, the town’s electorate voted 609-385 to acquire the south side of the Valley Floor through condemnation.
In March 2004, Telluride filed for condemnation of the property; the following month, SMVC asked the court to dismiss the condemnation petition.
In May 2004, the Colorado Legislature passed HB 1203, which contained the so-called “Telluride Amendment.” The subsection stated that home rule municipalities could neither acquire by condemnation, nor provide any funding to a third party to acquire by condemnation, property located outside their boundaries, except in the case of public utilities or public works.
SMVC attorney Thomas Ragonetti was seen as the driving force behind the special-purpose legislation that targeted Telluride’s condemnation efforts.
The Colorado Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case in January 2007, after SMVC appealed an earlier lower court ruling finding the Telluride Amendment to be unconstitutional, thereby giving the town the authority to condemn the Valley Floor.
In June 2008, some 16 uncertainty-filled months later, the state’s highest court, whose decisions are binding on all other Colorado State Courts, handed the town a decisive victory with a 6-1 vote that affirmed the lower court ruling.
Although town residents and visitors alike have enjoyed the Valley Floor for a variety of activities since the summer of 2008, the legal intrigue concerning the property hasn’t stopped.
After meeting in executive session this past February, council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to file a statement of opposition against a water rights filing submitted to Colorado Water Court by SMVC alleging the company retained certain conditional water rights that had survived the condemnation and acquisition.
In essence, SMVC is arguing that it maintains the right to access the Valley Floor and construct whatever facilities there it deems necessary in order to exercise its water rights – including buildings or reservoirs.
The town disagrees.
In the meantime, the annexation has the effect of making the Lawson Hill subdivision, once more than four miles away, contiguous with Telluride.
Additionally, it transfers jurisdiction of Boomerang Road from San Miguel County to the Town of Telluride.
Dogs will continue to be allowed in the Boomerang Road right-of-way, as they were prior to the annexation; they remain, however, prohibited on all other areas of the Valley Floor.