Breckenridge landowner frustrated by county’s role in recent backcountry auction
August 6, 2017
A backcountry mining claim in Breckenridge's historic Golden Horseshoe has become the source of a feud between the county and the owner over its value and what he's allowed to build on the property.
Landowner Matt Casey snapped up the 10-acre parcel with unobstructed views of Quandary Peak that sits directly northeast of the Wellington Neighborhood in the late-1990s with the idea of building a private home on the forested, tucked away locale. He also owns another 10-acre plot surrounded by U.S. Forest Service land just north of the Iron and Crown Point claims in question, as well as water and mineral rights for both sites, not far from the area where the state's largest recorded nugget of gold was found.
"I used to hike and ride my bike up that road, and I loved the views and tranquility of it," said Casey. "And one day I saw a for-sale sign there after the owner previously told me he hoped to leave it for his children, and I bought it."
Entertaining the idea of changing course, though, Casey has had the land at 802 Prospect Gulch Road on the real estate market for several years with an asking price of $400,000. But with no takers at that amount, the county's Open Space & Trails Department — operating with a goal of preserving the area's rural mountain character — offered a fraction of that cost as it seeks to prevent any residential development on the land.
After negotiations between Casey and the county stalled when he countered with a willingness to sell both claims, in addition to the water and mineral rights, for approaching two-thirds of the open space fund's annual $1.25 million operating budget — set by a property tax-funded mill levy — he opted for a recent public land auction.
County attorney Jeff Huntley and open space director Brian Lorch submitted adjustments to the property's description to the auctioneer and then walked away on July 28 as the top bidder at $125,000. Casey once again declined to accept that total for the land.
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Casey believes the land is worth upward of $400,000 because comparable properties have sold privately at around that price. His parcel has innate obstacles to development, however, including presently lacking legal access to the space and its degree of slope, which could prove challenging as a future site for homebuilding.
A U.S. Forest Service access dirt road, also known as County Road 481, currently leads to Casey's land, but officially requires a special-use permit from the federal agency to utilize it, particularly for construction. And to build on the property through the county's restrictive backcountry zoning regulations first requires demonstrating legal access to its planning department. Those application processes run concurrently and usually take at least a year total to finalize.
If those boxes all ultimately get checked, the Upper Blue Basin backcountry zoning rules allow for a single-family dwelling of 1,150 square feet on Casey's specific property, with potential for an accessory structure such as a garage, storage shed or greenhouse up to 600 square feet. Transferring the development rights from his other 10-acre parcel, upon necessary consent from the Board of County Commissioners, would provide for a home up to 2,400 square feet that disturbs the proposed area as little as possible.
County open space previously purchased nearby tracts of land and established Prospect and Side Door trails that hikers, mountain bikers and cross-country skiers use to traverse parts of Casey's property.
No longer certain he wants to build a mountain getaway there, Casey said he wants to grant that opportunity to another without the county stepping in to impede his auctioning it off for closer to what he thinks is fair-market value. He accuses the county of preventing him from developing the property with backcountry regulations that weren't as pronounced when he bought the land, as well as meddling in his attempt at a public sale by telling potential buyers "half-truths" to curb a bidding war from raising the price above the below-market rate the county desires to pay.
"There's been a fair amount of misinformation for the people who have requested it from the county offices," said Casey. "They haven't been fair or honest in their dealings. It appears to me to be an ethical dilemma when the municipality is negotiating against me … and has unnecessarily involved themselves in the sale with other people who showed up at the auction."
Lorch and Huntley flatly denied the charge.
"We felt there were misleading representations being made and we wanted to clarify that for the benefit of the auctioneer and just to make sure the record was clear and accurate," said Huntley. "We put the auctioneer on notice about the condition of the property, generally. What was being represented, in our view, was not truthful."
Added Lorch: "We disclosed what we knew about the lack of access. Although his write-up said 'Gentle sloping driveway to the property' or something like that, in our due diligence we realized, no, he doesn't have access rights to that property."
The end result was at least a couple people elected not to place a bid and the county open space department was able to maintain its existing offer. Casey rebuffed the county's insinuations and now sees no other path forward but to restart his application process in the hopes of eventually erecting a home there.
"After what's happened, I'm sort of forced to build on the property and spend the time and money and going through this process again," he said. "I'm willing to do it, but that's why I had the property for sale again — to give someone else the chance at it who it better aligns with their dream than my dream. I perceive what the county did as disruptive and interfering with my process, and people ought to know how they behave and act, and that they don't know any boundaries."
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