Grand Park residents win battle over potential tax increases
Grand Park residents no longer face tax hikes that a developer requested in order to repay infrastructure costs.
In summer 2022, Grand Park’s developer Cornerstone Holdings, led by Clark Lipscomb, brought a tax increase request to the Town of Fraser. This request was to increase residents’ tax rate, who live in the West Meadow Metropolitan District, from 50 mills to 68.8 mills (or by 37%) and to extend the repayment term from 2050 up to 2063. Since residents are living in a metro district, they are required to repay the developer for the costs of services and infrastructure.
Mills or mill levies are the rates of taxation set by each taxing authority, not the assessor’s office. Each tax authority has a district boundary, according to the Grand County’s website.
Currently, three metro districts make up Grand Park: Byers View, West Mountain and West Meadow. West Meadow is the only developed portion where residents live. When West Meadow homeowners realized Cornerstone was attempting to increase taxation for infrastructure and improvements without their input, they petitioned to be represented on the board ahead of the May 2 elections.
Three homeowners were chosen for the board, although only one, Steve Watts, is running for May reelection. Thanks to homeowner representation on the board, as well as direction from the Town of Fraser, residents have won one battle – they will still pay taxes under their original service plan of 50 mills until 2050.
During the board’s Feb. 28 meeting, the developer outlined how taxes are able to stay the same. The meeting was led by: attorney Nicole Peykov of Spencer Fane LLP, the law firm representing the metro district; board president and developer Clark Lipscomb of Cornerstone Holdings; board secretary, Meredith Lipscomb; and board director and homeowner Steve Watts. Homeowners, as well as members of the public, attended the meeting.
According to Lipscomb, Cornerstone is planning to exclude all of Grand Park’s undeveloped property from the current service plan for the districts, limiting the 50 mills until 2050 tax structure to only the existing homes in West Meadow.
“This is existing debt for infrastructure that’s serving your homes that has been built since really ’04,” said Lipscomb. “The debt will not get paid off in full with the tax base that exists in the developed area. The approach that we have taken here is one that was requested by the town … which I believe came from some of the homeowners, to reduce the district to the developed properties specifically.”
Lipscomb explained that excluding undeveloped land was necessary to ensure that current West Meadow residents won’t face increased taxes to repay the developer’s infrastructure costs. Now that all undeveloped land has been removed from their service plan, current residents are only responsible for repaying the developer for services and infrastructure in their district.
Future homeowners will then be responsible for remaining debt for infrastructure in their districts. In this way, the developer will be repaid in full, while easing the burden on current homeowners.
There will be some infrastructure, such as roads, water lines and sewer lines, that will be shared and paid for across multiple districts. Because these types of infrastructure serve multiple metro districts, there has to be a give and take of debt across districts.
In dollar terms, the debt issuance for West Meadow is limited to up to $30 million. However, the developer predicts residents will only pay closer to $20 million because the issuance amount is limited by development costs and taxation caps. Increases up to $30 million would be based on interest rates at the time bonds are issued.
Formerly, Byers View, West Mountain, and West Meadow were all under a consolidated service plan, with the debt for all three districts totaling $99 million. If the exclusion is approved by the town, each district will operate under a new service plan. Then West Meadow would also be split into separate districts operating under their own service plan – West Meadow, North Meadow and South Meadow.
However, not all homeowners approved of this solution to keep their taxes the same, since it results in the exclusion of Cozens Meadow from West Meadow’s district. The fate of the meadow, currently an open area in Grand Park, has been heavily contested by the developer, the Town of Fraser and homeowners. The developer and the town are currently embroiled in a legal battle over potential development of the Meadow.
“We were promised … that this would be open space,” said homeowner Deborah Shulman. “It is common space and open space until it isn’t, and so I completely object to the land exclusions; it gives the developer the opportunity to develop the land.”
Other residents besides Shulman still feel that they are at war with the developer. Some commented during the meeting that the Clark and his wife Meredith should not be able to vote to approve any measures related to the service plan. They stated this is conflict of interest because Clark is both board president and the developer. He and his wife own one lot in Grand Park, serving on the board through this single property.
Others felt that Lipscomb rushed approval of West Meadow’s $30 million debt issuance without having a clear number of the exact infrastructure costs.
“I have concerns about the proposed debt issuance,” said Brian Matisse, an attorney whom a few homeowners had hired. “There’s incomplete information to allow the district residents and the public to determine whether or not it complies with the service plan.”
Matisse stated that information regarding interest rates and proposed debt per year isn’t provided by the developer, and that the district’s financial disclosures are not accurate.
“You’re buying yourself a lawsuit and if that’s what the district wants to do – if board members want to buy themselves individual lawsuits and possible action by the district attorney, that’s fine – but I think this is a real big mistake you guys are making,” Matisse said.
Since there is a chance Lipscomb could be voted off the board during the May election and not be repaid in full, he may have pushed the debt issuance forward quickly.
For now, the land exclusions and current issuance of $30 million still lie with the Town of Fraser for approval, after the town schedules public hearings. The May 2 election deadline is also approaching, which will give homeowners their only chance to serve on the board. Despite some opposition, Lipscomb remains confident that agreements will be reached between Cornerstone, the town and homeowners as he continues to invest in Grand Park.
“I’m pretty proud of what we’ve developed here I think everybody should be very happy with how their homes have progressed in value, and my goal is to continue to advance the development of Grand Park and to do it in a way that’s beneficial to everyone involved,” Lipscomb told the residents, adding that they are welcome to contact him with any concerns. “I’m here to respect what you guys asked the town to do … and also to continue my development, which obviously I’ve been at for a long time and am planning on being at for a much longer time.”
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