This story was first ForeignJason Blevins’ premium outdoor newsletter.
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Over the years, investors Petr Lukes and Jana Sobotova have begun to hint that their patience is running out. The litigation proposals rose higher last year as the Forest Service approval process for plans to build a luxury home community above the Vail Valley stretches into its 14th year.
This week Lukes and Sobotova stopped hinting and filed a lawsuit asking a federal judge to force the Forest Service to make its final decision, which was over a year late.
The developers behind the 19-home Berlaimont Estates plan want to build a road on federal land to reach its planned 680-acre mountain community. In July 2021, the Forest Service said a decision would come within 30 days. The Colorado four-person politician then urged the Forest Service to delay any action related to the widely unpopular proposal to allow for further scrutiny.
Lukes and Sobotova in their lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Colorado, argue that “political pressure” has hampered the Forest Service after special interest groups waged “a campaign of misinformation and erroneous legal claims” that directed political leaders to slow Orman. Service approval process.
In 2008, Czech investors floated Edwards’ plans for 19 luxury homes on 680 acres for the first time in 2008, a slope mansion in the Vail ski area that they built two years ago and listed for $45 million alongside the big games in Florida. Eagle County for an access road that will cross federal land to reach their parcel. The Forest Service then began an environmental review of possible routes to the top of the mountain.
White River National Forest Auditor Scott Fitzwilliams reluctantly approved a road through federal land, noting that the 1980 Alaska National Interest and Land Conservation Act—or ANILCA—requires land managers to provide landowners with “adequate access” for the “reasonable use” of private property. . surrounded by federal territory.
Fitzwilliams chose a route that follows a winding and indirect 2.6-mile dirt road up to the planned community and said the road will have the least impact on wildlife and habitat. The developers wanted a different, more direct (and less costly to build) way. They objected to Fitzwilliams’ choice of route. A Forest Service arbitrator heard the fervent protests of wildlife advocates who were unwaveringly opposed to the project, along with the January 2021 appeals, and sent the final decision back to Fitzwilliams for some adjustments.
The developers have spent much of this year arguing that they will sue the Forest Service, arguing that the route Fitzwilliams chose violated their “adequate access” rights for “reasonable use”. They say the route creates safety issues for emergency providers and damages wildlife habitat as it requires retaining walls and extensive blasting.
The plan has many opponents. More than 4,200 Eagle County residents signed a petition against the project and another gated community in the Vail area’s dwindling wildlife habitat. A broad coalition of environmental groups struggled with the plan for years.
The high country of Colorado is littered with failed plans for luxury, gated estates that see dollars in cool summer temperatures at 10,000 feet, many of which are proposed by out-of-state developers. (For example: Florida developer Bobby Ginn’s Battle Mountain plan on Minturn; Texan Red McCombs’ 30-year proposal for 10,000 homes on Wolf Creek Pass; and St. Louis developer Fred Kummer’s plan to build a ski area above Eagle 40 years of effort.)
A competitor’s perspective questions the role and breadth of ANILCA in Colorado. They argue that Fitzwilliams should be able to determine that a seasonal dirt road qualifies as “adequate access” and that “reasonable use” of private land should be less than that of 1935-acre plots that are high-care homes.
Fitzwilliams released its Final Environmental Impact Statement in late 2020. In July 2021, the Forest Service published the Draft Decision Record, which did not contain the adjustments required by the mediator. This will be included in the Final Decision Register, which is nearly a year late.
In August 2021, Governor Jared Polis, Colorado USA Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse have asked Forest Service officials to delay the final decision to “reconnect with the local community” and address local concerns. Democrats have also warned of the impacts on wildlife and the danger of legal precedent gaining access to Berlaimont developers.
“Forest Service has no obligation to provide significantly improved road access to facilitate more attractive real estate development. Such a decision would have far-reaching implications,” a letter from four politicians said.
The lawsuit, filed by Berlaimont Estates this week, asks the court to “force Forest Service to make a final decision.” It does not ask permission for a particular route or ask the court to overturn any previous decision by Fitzwilliams. But once again, the developers suggest they can sue over the details of the final decision.
The project went through four different chairmen, three periods of public comment, several public meetings, a draft and final Environmental Impact Statement, a draft resolution within the Forest Service, and an appeals process.
“Still, the Forest Service refuses to make the final decision because individual elected officials are pressing the agency to ignore its legal mandate,” the lawsuit said.
Fitzwilliams said he could not directly comment on the case, but said his team was “not far from doing it.” He said pretty much the same thing after he published the Draft Decision Record a year ago.
“Hey, this is a controversial project and we want to make sure we do it right,” he said.
This story was originally published in Jason Blevins’ premium outdoor newsletter, The Outsider. >> Subscribe to
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