Attorney wanted to build a residential complex on the entrance to Woodbridge
A Snowmass Village condominium association has prevailed in its legal fight with an Arizona attorney who claimed ownership of a small parcel of land at the entrance of the housing complex and sought to build a multi-family residential complex.
The Woodbridge Condominium Association in 2012 sued Richard Cole’s limited liability company, Lo Viento Blanco, claiming the association owned the land because it had maintained the parcel for decades. The association was also seeking to protect views of the Brush Creek Valley and Snowmass Ski Area, according to the filing.
The lawsuit, which was filed a year after Cole presented architectural plans to the association board for his development, involved land-use rights dating to the mid-1970s — before Snowmass Village was even incorporated as a town.
Following a three-day trial last summer, Judge Gail Nichols of Pitkin County District Court agreed with the association. In a ruling released Friday, she found that the association had proven it owns the roughly half-acre of land because previous owners never disputed the condo owners’ use of it over at least 18 years. That use included mowing the land, planting trees, using it for drainage and installing a Woodbridge sign and a picnic table.
Through Lo Viento Blanco, Cole bought the land, which lies between Brush Creek Road and buildings in the complex, in a 2010 internet bankruptcy auction for $2,500, court files show. He then recorded a property deed with Pitkin County, which gave Lo Viento Blanco “independent and paramount title” to the property, according to the company’s counterclaim.
Before it became Woodbridge, the land was to be a haven for attorneys.
In the early 1970s, a group of lawyers that called itself the Inns of Court Condominium Association built a law conference center and the first residential units aimed at attorneys. Plans included faculty and employee housing units, a commissary and a headquarters building, Nichols’ ruling says.
A portion of the land, larger than but inclusive of the disputed parcel, was later conveyed to Lyle Foy, the owner of a Kansas construction firm that acted as the general contractor on what later became Woodbridge.
In 1975, Foy conveyed his land to the Woodbridge Condominium Association, formerly known as the Inns of Court. But the disputed parcel was not part of that transaction. Five years later, Foy realized he still owned the half-acre and was not paying taxes on it.
How the parcel’s ownership was understood is unclear after that.
“Because the membership of the [Woodbridge] board varied over time, what the board knew and understood about the disputed parcel could, and almost certainly did, vary over time,” Nichols wrote.
“ … Foy Construction, although it retained the disputed parcel, did nothing to give notice to the town, to Woodbridge or to Pitkin County that it had retained ownership of the … parcel,” the ruling says.
From then until the present day, Woodbridge acted as though it owned the parcel, maintaining it, and installing a $10,000 sign and a sprinkler system.
By 2009, Foy and his wife had died, and their son became the principal of the company that owned the disputed parcel. Also that year, their son was declared insolvent, leading to the bankruptcy auction in which Cole bought the land. Although Cole was aware of the sign and other facets Woodbridge had installed on the land, he did “nothing to interrupt Woodbridge’s continued possession and use of the disputed parcel …,” Nichols wrote. Cole’s company did pay property taxes on the parcel from 2011 to date.
Nichols ruled that, by caring for the disputed land for years, Woodbridge earned title to the property through a legal theory called adverse possession. In other words, the condo association proved that while it did not have permission from the previous owner to use the land, that use was continuous from 1975 to 1991 (the latter year is when Woodbridge apparently realized Foy still owned it). Nichols ruled that was enough time to meet Colorado’s statutory requirements for adverse possession.
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