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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Bitter Summit County eminent domain dispute ends with $115,000 settlement
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A five-month-long legal battle over a 10.3-acre parcel in unincorporated Summit County has come to a close.
On Friday, April 11, Andy Barrie, former owner of the “Hunter Mine” property in the Hoosier Ridge area south of Breckenridge and operator of Uncle Dicks LLC, which manufactures holiday wreaths for nonprofit organizations, said he had reached a $115,000 settlement with Summit County for the purchase of the property.
The deal was made after Barrie and Summit County officials participated in court-ordered mediation in Denver on Monday, March 31. At that time, Barrie estimated he had spent close to $80,000 in legal fees in an attempt to keep his property.
Although Barrie thought he had a legitimate claim to the Hunter Mine — he argued an old mining road he used to access the parcel from his home in an established subdivision should have been grandfathered in as a county road under federal statute — the court-ordered mediator advised Barrie he would not only lose his battle in court, but would also likely double, if not triple his legal expenses in the process.
“I think we presented some interesting arguments, but I don’t have unlimited funds,” Barrie said. “They essentially spent me to death. I had an $80,000 gun to my head, two college tuitions to pay and I simply can’t afford to go on.”
Summit County initiated the suit in December 2013 when it filed a motion in district court for immediate possession to acquire the property through eminent domain, citing conservation values and recreational opportunities that needed to be protected for open space purposes. The Hunter Mine is considered an inholding, meaning it is surrounded on all sides by U.S. Forest Service land.
The county also referenced in the suit a cabin it had condemned because it was improved upon by a previous owner who didn’t acquire proper building permits.
In addition to the legal battle, Barrie also launched a four-month-long media campaign, telling his story to anyone who would listen, in an attempt to keep the land he purchased in 2011.
Since being reported in January by the Summit Daily News, stories about Barrie’s conflict with the county have been told by the Associated Press, the Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Mail, FoxNews and several radio stations across the country.
In the latest article, featured on Tuesday, April 8, on FoxNews.com, Summit County government said in a statement that, “Both parties engaged in productive negotiations in pursuit of a voluntary settlement regarding the purchase.” But Barrie said those negotiations have been anything but good-natured.
“The county is trying to spin it that we came to this agreement amicably and we did not,” he said. “There’s no way the settlement was amicable at all.”
After more than $80,000 in legal fees and a failed media blitz, the million dollar question is, was it all worth it?
“You know, I asked my son, who is a student at the University of Denver, what he would have done and he didn’t have an answer,” Barrie said. “This is a right that I had and if I didn’t stand up for it, what kind of an example would have I been setting for my son?”
Summit County officials had little to say about the deal, electing only to comment about previous claims Barrie made in the media that the county plans to swap the Hunter Mine parcel with the U.S. Forest Service for more valuable development acreage closer to Breckenridge.
“That is a complete fabrication,” Summit County manager Gary Martinez said. “That was never the intention and we have no intention of doing that at all. People will still have (non-motorized) access to the property, which is tremendously important ecologically and now more compatible with the entirety of the surrounding area.”
As far as next steps are concerned, Summit County attorney Jeff Huntley said the county took possession of the property last week after 5th Judicial District Judge Karen Romeo signed off on the order.
Barrie was granted until July 31 to remove any belongings from the condemned cabin, Martinez said. The county plans to begin tearing down the cabin in August.