Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Colorado Supreme Court
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This case asked the Colorado Supreme Court to construe the definition of residential land in section 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). Stephen Ziegler (through the Stephen J. Ziegler Revocable Trust Dated July 17, 2008) owned four parcels of land in Park County, Colorado. One parcel was classified as “residential land” under section 39-1-102(14.4)(a) and taxed accordingly. However, the other three parcels remained “vacant land” and are thus taxed at a higher rate. Ziegler sought to reclassify those vacant parcels as residential land to receive a corresponding tax abatement. As it concluded in Mook v. Summit Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, 2020 CO 12 (2020): (1) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land for that parcel to be “used as a unit;” and (2) a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property. The BAA here applied the same legal standards that the Court expressly disavowed in Mook. Thus, it reversed the BAA’s order and remanded for the BAA to apply the standards articulated in this case to determine whether the vacant parcels qualified as “residential land.” View "Ziegler v. Park Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs" on Justia Law

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The common issue from three property tax cases presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review centered on what constituted "residential land" under 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). In Colorado, residential land was taxed as a lower rate than vacant land. The Mooks owned two parcels of land in Summit County, Colorado. One parcel contained the Mooks’ house, classified as residential land. The other parcel was undeveloped, and it was classified as vacant land (“the subject parcel”). The parties agreed that these two parcels didn't physically touch. The Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) owned an approximately seventeen-foot-wide strip of land that completely separated the two properties (that strip provided other members of the HOA access to adjacent public land). The Mooks petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (“BCC”) to reclassify the subject parcel from vacant land to residential land. The BCC denied their petition, and the Mooks appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”). The BAA upheld the BCC’s decision. Notably, the BAA determined that contiguous parcels are those that are “physically connected.” Here, the residential and subject parcels didn't physically touch, and the BAA “was not persuaded that the use of the subject lot in conjunction with the residential lot was sufficient to defeat the plain meaning of contiguity.” Thus, the BAA concluded that the two parcels aren’t contiguous, and it denied the Mooks’ appeal. Taking the three appeals together, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) only parcels of land that physically touch qualify as “contiguous parcels of land;” (2) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land and a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property; and (3) county records dictate whether parcels are held under “common ownership.” View "Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs" on Justia Law

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Before the 2007-2008 financial crisis, Woodcrest Homes was poised to construct a new development. Woodcrest secured only a small parcel, "Parcel C" which was stuck between two larger parcels that were necessary for completion of the project. Over a decade after the failed development, a special metropolitan district controlled by a competitor, Century Communities, sought to condemn Parcel C and finish what Woodcrest started. Woodcrest objected, claiming the entire condemnation proceeding was really a sham designed to benefit Century. Woodcrest contended the condemnation violated both the public use protections of the Colorado Constitution and the statutory prohibition on economic development takings. According to Woodcrest, the purpose of the taking, at the time it occurred, was to satisfy contractual obligations between Century and the Town of Parker. Because the public would not be the beneficiary at the time of the taking, Woodcrest contends that this condemnation violated the Colorado Constitution. Moreover, it argued, the taking effectively transfers the condemned land to Century, which violated section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I), C.R.S. (2018), the state’s anti-economic development takings statute. The Colorado Supreme Court disagreed, finding that condemnation of Parcel C would benefit the public. And the Court found Colorado’s prohibition on economic development takings had no bearing on the condemnation at issue here: the plain language of section 38-1-101(1)(b)(I) prevented public entities from transferring condemned land to private entities. "But there was no transfer, and the only entity involved was a public one, the special district." View "Carousel Farms v. Woodcrest Homes" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant-appellees Roger Brooks and Veryl Goodnight filed an application with the water court to change the point of diversion of their water right from the Giles Ditch to the Davenport Ditch. The application and the required notice published in the local newspaper misidentified the section and range in which the Davenport Ditch headgate was located. Both, however, referred repeatedly to the Davenport Ditch. Appellees successfully moved to amend the application with the correct section and range shortly afterward. The water court, finding that “no person [would] be injured by the amendment,” concluded that republication of the notice was unnecessary. Eight years later, plaintiff-appellant Gary Sheek filed this action at the water court, seeking judgment on five claims for relief: (1) declaratory judgment that Brooks’s decree was void for insufficient notice; (2) quiet title to a prescriptive access easement for the Davenport Ditch, including ancillary access rights; (3) trespass; (4) theft and interference with a water right; and (5) a permanent injunction prohibiting Brooks from continued use of the Davenport Ditch. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the water court’s conclusion that the published notice was sufficient. As a result, all of the remaining claims should have been dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Sheek v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant-appellees Roger Brooks and Veryl Goodnight (together “Brooks”) filed an application in the water court to change the point of diversion of their water right from the Giles Ditch to the Davenport Ditch. The application and the required notice published in the local newspaper misidentified the section and range in which the Davenport Ditch headgate was located. However, both referred repeatedly to the Davenport Ditch. Brooks successfully moved to amend the application with the correct section and range shortly afterward. The water court, finding that “no person [would] be injured by the amendment,” concluded that republication of the notice was unnecessary. Eight years later, plaintiff-appellant Gary Sheek filed this action in the water court, seeking judgment on five claims for relief: (1) declaratory judgment that Brooks’ decree was void for insufficient notice; (2) quiet title to a prescriptive access easement for the Davenport Ditch, including ancillary access rights; (3) trespass; (4) theft and interference with a water right; and (5) a permanent injunction prohibiting Brooks from continued use of the Davenport Ditch. After concluding that sufficient notice was provided, the water court granted Brooks’ motion for summary judgment and deemed the trespass and injunction claims moot in light of that ruling. The court then dismissed the prescriptive easement claim as well as the theft and interference claim for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed with the water court’s conclusion that the published notice was sufficient. As a result, all of the remaining claims should have been dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Sheek v. Brooks" on Justia Law

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A series of appeals concerned a dispute over competing rights to irrigation tail and waste water that collected in a borrow ditch. The Colorado Supreme Court was asked to determine whether a driveway that interrupted the flow of water in the ditch rendered the sections of borrow ditch on either side of the driveway separate sources of water for purposes of the postponement doctrine. S. Cade and Bradley Huffaker and a neighboring landowner, Lee Crowther, filed competing applications for rights to this water. The Huffakers filed their application in 2013; Crowther filed his in 2016. The Huffakers argued that under the postponement doctrine, they were entitled to the senior right in the borrow ditch water because they filed their application first. The water court held that the postponement doctrine did not apply here because it concluded the water rights claimed by the Huffakers and Crowther did not derive from the same source. Therefore, the court held that Crowther’s right to divert water at the culvert was not junior to the Huffakers’ right, even though Crowther’s application was filed two and a half years after the Huffakers’ application. The Huffakers appealed, again contending that the postponement doctrine applied to determine the priority of the applicants’ competing rights to the water in the borrow ditch, and that they were entitled to the senior priority because they filed their application first. They further argued the collection area of their absolute water right began not at the driveway, but farther south (upstream) at the same point as Crowther’s right. The Supreme Court agreed with both contentions and reversed the water court. View "Concerning the Application for Water Rights of S. Cade Huffaker" on Justia Law

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This case centered on Coors Brewing Company’s application to amend its decreed augmentation plans to authorize the reuse and successive use of return flows from water that Coors diverted out of priority pursuant to those plans. The City of Golden opposed this application, arguing that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right to reuse or make successive use of the return flows. The water court ruled: (1) any amount of water not beneficially used by Coors for the uses specified in its decreed augmentation plans had to be returned to the stream; (2) Coors’s decreed augmentation plans did not authorize the reuse or successive use of such water; and (3) Coors could not obtain the right to reuse or make successive use of such water by way of amendment to its augmentation plans but could only obtain such rights by adjudicating a new water right. Coors appealed, arguing that the water court erred: (1) by holding that Coors could not proceed by amendment but had to adjudicate a new water right; (2) by concluding that water unconsumed by Coors’s initial use had to be returned to the stream and was subject to appropriation by other water users; and (3) interpreting Coors’s augmentation plan decrees to require permanent dedication of return flows to the stream. The Colorado Supreme Court concluded that in order to obtain the right to reuse and make successive use of the return flows at issue, Coors had to adjudicate a new water right and could not circumvent this requirement by amending its decreed augmentation plans. Furthermore, the Court held that the diversion of native, tributary water under an augmentation plan did not change its character. Accordingly, the general rule, providing that return flows belong to the stream, applied. Finally, the Court concluded the water court correctly construed Coors’s augmentation plans. View "Coors Brewing Co. v. City of Golden" on Justia Law

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The Jim Hutton Foundation (“Foundation”) owned surface-water rights in the Republican River Basin. The Foundation believed that permitted groundwater wells that people had begun to install in the underlying groundwater basin - the Northern High Plains Basin (“NHP Basin”) - were not in fact pumping designated groundwater, and were injuring its senior surface-water rights. The Foundation sued, hoping to alter the groundwater basin's boundaries to exclude any improperly permitted designated-groundwater wells. The Foundation filed this action in water court, arguing that a legislative amendment to the statutory process to challenge the designation of a groundwater basis, prohibited any challenge to alter a designated groundwater basin's boundaries to exclude a well that already received a permit. The Foundation claimed the amendment deprived surface-water users of the ability to petition the Commission to redraw the NHP Basin’s boundaries to exclude permitted well users upon a showing that groundwater was improperly designated when the NHP Basin’s designation became final. The water court dismissed this claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding the Commission must first determine whether the water at issue is designated groundwater before subject matter jurisdiction will vest in the water court, meaning the Foundation’s constitutional claim could not become ripe until it satisfied the Commission that the water was not designated groundwater. The Foundation appealed. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the water court and concluded that, because jurisdiction did not vest in the water court until the Commission first determined the water at issue was not designated groundwater, the water court properly dismissed the claim. View "Jim Hutton Educ. Found. v. Rein" on Justia Law

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Front Range Resources, LLC, a private company that owned or managed various water rights, applied for a replacement plan in the Lost Creek Designated Ground Water Basin. Under the plan, Front Range sought to divert water from its existing water rights to recharge the Lost Creek Basin’s alluvial aquifer. It then planned to withdraw the recharged water by increasing the use of its existing wells and by constructing new wells. Defendants (parties that believed their water rights would be impaired by the plan) objected to Front Range’s replacement plan, and the Ground Water Commission ultimately dismissed Front Range’s application with prejudice, allowing Front Range to appeal to the district court. Meanwhile, Front Range and the City of Aurora entered into an option contract for Aurora to purchase some or all of the replacement-plan water upon the replacement plan’s approval. On appeal, the district court rejected Front Range’s use of water rights in the South Platte River in the replacement plan. It further found the replacement plan involved new appropriations and changes of water rights, triggering the anti-speculation doctrine. In granting summary judgment against Front Range, the district court concluded Front Range’s planned use of the replacement-plan water (including its option contract with Aurora) violated the anti-speculation doctrine. Some of the Defendants then pursued attorney fees, arguing Front Range’s claims lacked substantial justification. But the district court denied their motion. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held the anti-speculation doctrine applied to replacement plans involving new appropriations or changes to designated ground water rights. Because Front Range could not demonstrate that it or Aurora would put the replacement-plan water to beneficial use, the district court did not err in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants’ motion for attorney fees. View "Front Range Resources, LLC v. Colorado Ground Water Commission" on Justia Law

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Front Range Resources, LLC, a private company that owned or managed various water rights, applied for a replacement plan in the Lost Creek Designated Ground Water Basin. Under the plan, Front Range sought to divert water from its existing water rights to recharge the Lost Creek Basin’s alluvial aquifer. It then planned to withdraw the recharged water by increasing the use of its existing wells and by constructing new wells. Defendants (parties that believed their water rights would be impaired by the plan) objected to Front Range’s replacement plan, and the Ground Water Commission ultimately dismissed Front Range’s application with prejudice, allowing Front Range to appeal to the district court. Meanwhile, Front Range and the City of Aurora entered into an option contract for Aurora to purchase some or all of the replacement-plan water upon the replacement plan’s approval. On appeal, the district court rejected Front Range’s use of water rights in the South Platte River in the replacement plan. It further found the replacement plan involved new appropriations and changes of water rights, triggering the anti-speculation doctrine. In granting summary judgment against Front Range, the district court concluded Front Range’s planned use of the replacement-plan water (including its option contract with Aurora) violated the anti-speculation doctrine. Some of the Defendants then pursued attorney fees, arguing Front Range’s claims lacked substantial justification. But the district court denied their motion. After review, the Colorado Supreme Court held the anti-speculation doctrine applied to replacement plans involving new appropriations or changes to designated ground water rights. Because Front Range could not demonstrate that it or Aurora would put the replacement-plan water to beneficial use, the district court did not err in granting Defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants’ motion for attorney fees. View "Front Range Resources, LLC v. Colorado Ground Water Commission" on Justia Law