Grand Lake Lodge expansion in question over decades-old legal agreements
The future of a proposed development at Grand Lake Lodge came into question Wednesday night after legal concerns were raised over a pair of decades-old documents that advocates argued limits potential development on the historic property.
Residents of Grand Lake have been engaged for the last several months in the ongoing planning process related to the proposed development project at Grand Lake Lodge, which includes construction of up to 86 lodging units and associated infrastructure over an extended four-phase project on a 71-acre area of land west of the lodge. The project has been proposed by the new owners of the property, Red Tail Acquisitions.
The future viability of the project, however, was left in doubt during a Grand Lake Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night after two attorneys, one representing two local homeowners and another speaking on behalf of the Grand Lake Historical Society, presented legal documents that they contended restrict the ability of the property’s owners to expand the size of the lodge’s development.
Kent Whitmer, representing homeowners Jim and Laura Payton, highlighted a Memorandum of Agreement signed between the National Park Service and previous owners of Grand Lake Lodge which Whitmer contended restricts the ability of developers to construct any hotel or lodge related developments around the property.
The memorandum was part of a land exchange deal made between the National Park Service and previous owners of the Grand Lake Lodge property, which dates back to the early 1960s, according to Whitmer.
Per the terms of the memorandum, the concessionaire who owned the Grand Lake Lodge in the 1960s agreed to lobby property owners with inholdings within Rocky Mountain National Park to sell their inholdings to the park, as Whitmer explained. If successful, Rocky Mountain National Park agreed to give a portion of land west of Grand Lake Lodge to the concessionaire, making the land a part of the lodge’s property.
“The relevant part of the (memorandum) is that there was a restrictive covenant created by it,” Whitmer told the planning commission. “They agreed that if they get this land it will not be used for a hotel, lodge or related developments for one mile around Grand Lake Lodge.”
Town officials said they were unaware of the memorandum prior to Wednesday night’s meeting and said they would need to seek legal advice regarding the issue. Grand Lake Town Planner Nate Shull noted that if the document is valid and binding on the property that Grand Lake Lodge has been in violation of the memorandum for the past several decades.
Also calling into question the future viability of the lodge development was local resident Gary Calder, who spoke for the town’s historical society.
Unlike Whitmer, who effectively said the construction of additional guest lodging units cannot occur on the property, Calder, an attorney with extensive experience in land-use issues and related litigation, argued that any new construction on the property must meet 40 specific design criteria laid out in covenants attached to the property.
“The pictures of what they intend the cabins to look like does not constitute objective recordable evidence to prove a violation,” Calder said. “The smart thing is to require objective architectural renderings as a condition of yours and the Trustee’s approval to avoid the expenses of future construction and possible demolition of structures.”
Shull, however, argued that such covenants were not currently binding on the property after a town ordinance was approved that deregulated the previous covenants. Though Calder pushed back on that claim, asserting that covenants running with the land cannot be invalidated through town ordinances or even by state or federal statute.
Calder added that if other parties to the covenant agreements, specifically single-family homeowners on Old Tonahutu Ridge Road, feel the covenants are violated by the lodge development they can bring legal action to enjoin construction on the property or sue for damages for the value of the property.
Town officials further stated they would need to seek legal counsel regarding Calder’s claims.
The Grand Lake Planning Commission neither approved nor denied the planning documents and continued any further discussion and action until Dec. 5, citing the need to receive legal counsel regarding the two issues raised by Whitmer and Calder. The commissioners also raised a series of questions and concerns about the development plan related to traffic, trail access in the area, roadway paving requirements and wetlands on the property that they said they wanted to see addressed by the time of their Dec. 5 meeting.
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US Forest Service officials have closed Willow Creek Reservoir in Grand County because of a potential blue-green algae bloom.