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Eagle County District Court Judge Paul Dunkelman has ruled in favor of the Town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District in a lawsuit filed by eight plaintiffs who claimed that the remodel plans for the Vail Golf Course and Clubhouse were illegal.
The lawsuit, filed in late 2012 by the eight golf course neighborhood property owners, sought a declaratory judgment from the court on four separate grounds: 1) that an existing restrictive covenant (the Pulis Covenant) prohibits the proposed renovation; 2) that the town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax funds can not be used for the clubhouse renovation; 3) that the use of certain funds for the renovation violated the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights (TABOR) provision of the Colorado Constitution; and 4) that the proposed renovation was not consistent with what the Vail voters approved in 2011.
In his order issued on March 13, Judge Dunkelman found in favor of the Town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District on all claims. Specifically, the court concluded the town’s planned renovation complies with the language of the Pulis Covenant, which was placed on the golf course property when the land was transferred to the town in 1984. In reaching this conclusion, Judge Dunkelman found that the proposed renovation, which would allow the clubhouse to continue to be used as a facility for public events in exchange for money, complied with the Pulis Covenant, because clubhouses are “related support facilities required for” a golf course.
Though Judge Dunkelman found that the plaintiffs had standing to enforce the Pulis Covenant (a fact disputed by the town), the order recognizes the town’s careful consideration of the Pulis Covenant and the town’s thoughtful planning of the clubhouse renovation to respect the Pulis Covenant.
The court also found that the town’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) funds may be used for constructing buildings that are incidental to the golf course, such as the clubhouse. Furthermore, the court noted that it is undisputed that the golf course is running at an annual loss of approximately $100,000, and developing a source of revenue to ensure solvency of the golf course is a permitted use of the RETT funds. As stated by Judge Dunkelman, “The Court disagrees with Plaintiffs’ apparent position that the taxpayers of Vail are required by state constitution to subsidize Plaintiffs’ private interests in the golf course, such as they might be.”
Regarding the plaintiffs’ third assertion, that the use of funds covered by the November 2011 election in which voters approved using Conference Center Funds for the clubhouse remodel and two other uses violated TABOR, the court ruled that TABOR had no applicability. This is because the funds do not represent a new tax, tax rate increase, mill levy increase or other tax governed by TABOR, according to the ruling.
Lastly, the court ruled that there was no departure from the voters’ approval of the ballot issue in November 2011 to use the funds for expansion of the clubhouse. In other words, the town’s planned renovation of the clubhouse is entirely consistent with the ballot language, which stated “expansion and improvement of the clubhouse at the Vail Golf Course and Nordic Center, including multi-use community space.”
The Town of Vail was represented by Town Attorney Matt Mire and Kendra Carberry of Hayes, Phillips, Hoffmann & Carberry, P.C. while the Vail Recreation District was represented by Patrick Wilson from the law firm of Murray, Dahl, Kuechenmeister & Renaud.
This week’s judgment follows two other rulings from the Eagle County District Court that has supported the Town of Vail and Vail Recreation District in their activities related to the golf course over the past year.
Vail Mayor Andy Daly says he’s pleased with the ruling in that it validates the town’s decision-making process. “From the outset of this project, we carefully considered the land use covenant on the property to make sure the clubhouse remodel was in accordance with the covenant,” he said. “The ruling means the town has been well within its authority to remodel the golf course clubhouse and the court has acknowledged the same.”
Notwithstanding a potential appeal by the plaintiffs, the ruling clears the way for the next steps in the clubhouse renovation. Prior approvals by the Planning and Environmental Commission include an amendment to a Conditional Use Permit and a Management and Operations plan for the facility agreed upon by the Town of Vail and the Vail Recreation District. The town owns the golf course property and leases the building and grounds to the Vail Recreation District.