Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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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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The Department of Transportation petitioned to acquire property owned by Amerco Real Estate Co. and occupied by U-Haul Co. by eminent domain, asserting that the property in question was necessary for a highway expansion project. U-Haul opposed the petition, asserting that the Department lacked authority to condemn its land on grounds that the statutory perquisites for acquiring land in the manner the Department used, were not met. The district court declined to dismiss the petition and instead granted the Department's motion for immediate possession. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the transportation commission's enabling legislation, to the extent that it purported to delegate to the Department the choice of particular properties to be taken for highway projects and the manner of their taking, was an unlawful delegation of the commission's statutorily imposed obligation. The case was remanded back to the district court for dismissal of the Department's original petition. View "Colorado Dept. of Transportation v. Amerco Real Estate" on Justia Law

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Jesse Lipschuetz lived next door to Open Door Ministries. Lipschuetz filed claims against the City of Denver and Open Door looking to revoke a rooming and boarding permit the City granted to Open Door. The trial court concluded the City should not have issued the permit, but stayed revocation until Open Door's cross-claims were resolved. Several months later, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Open Door on those cross-claims. On appeal, Lipscheutz argued Open Door's cross-claims against the City were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act because they "could lie in tort." Therefore, Lipscheutz argued, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the cross-claims. The court of appeals agreed with that reasoning, and reversed the trial court. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act did not apply to Open Door's request for prospective relief to prevent future injury. Because Open Door had not suffered an injury before it filed its cross-claims, the Act did not bar those claims seeking prospective relief from future injury. Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction over those cross-claims. View "Open Door Ministries v. Lipschuetz" on Justia Law

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On July 4, 2004, the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority (the “Authority”) diverted 0.716 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) of water at the Edwards Drinking Water Facility on the Eagle River and delivered that water to the Cordillera area for beneficial use. On that date, there was a “free river” (meaning that there was no call on the Colorado or Eagle Rivers). Of the water diverted and delivered to Cordillera, the Authority allocated 0.47 cfs to its Eagle River Diversion Point No. 2 conditional water right (the “Junior Eagle River Right”) and filed an application to make this amount absolute. The State and Division Engineers opposed the application, asserting that the Authority could not make its Junior Eagle River Right absolute when it owned another, more senior conditional water right, the SCR Diversion Point No. 1 water right (the “Senior Lake Creek Right”), decreed for the same claimed beneficial uses at the same location and for diversion at the same point. The water court agreed with the Engineers, and held that the July 4, 2004, diversion had to be allocated first to the Senior Lake Creek Right. The Authority appealed, and the Colorado Supreme Court reversed, holding that where there was no evidence of waste, hoarding, or other mischief, and no injury to the rights of other water users, the owner of a portfolio of water rights was entitled to select which of its different, in-priority conditional water rights it wished to first divert and make absolute. "[T]he portfolio owner must live with its choice. Since it has chosen to make a portion of the Junior Eagle River Right absolute, the Authority may not now divert and use the Senior Lake Creek Right unless it demonstrates that it needs that water right in addition to the Junior Eagle River Right." View "Upper Eagle Reg'l Water Auth. v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

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In June 2010, the Denver City Council passed Ordinance 333, replacing the old zoning code but including an exception that allowed any person seeking to “erect or alter structures” to apply for a permit under the old zoning code until December 30, 2010. On December 30, 2010, Open Door Ministries (Open Door) applied for a use permit under the old code to change the use of 740 Clarkson Street to provide transitional housing for people in need. The Denver Zoning Authority (“the DZA”) issued the rooming and boarding permit. Open Door then purchased the property for $700,000; made improvements to the property; and began providing room and board to people at risk of becoming homeless. Several months later, Jesse Lipschuetz, who owned a home adjacent to 740 Clarkson, sought administrative review of the DZA’s decision to issue the permit. He argued that Open Door did not meet the exception under Ordinance 333 because the permit was for a change of use, not to “erect or alter” a structure. The DZA defended its decision to issue the permit, explaining that it had consistently interpreted the exception to allow parties to seek any kind of permit under the old zoning code until December30, 2010. The trial court concluded that the City should not have issued the permit, but stayed its order to revoke the permit until Open Door’s cross-claims were resolved. Several months later, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Open Door on the cross-claims. On appeal, Lipschuetz argued that Open Door’s cross-claims against the City were barred by the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act because they “could lie in tort.” Because Open Door did not notify the City prior to filing its cross-claims, Lipschuetz argued that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the cross-claims. The court of appeals agreed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the court of appeals failed to consider whether, at the time of filing, Open Door had suffered an injury that would subject its cross-claims to the Act. The Court concluded that the Act did not apply to Open Door’s request for prospective relief to prevent future injury. View "Open Door Ministries v. Lipschuetz" on Justia Law

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Boulder County chose to develop "the Bailey Farm" into a public open-space park which would feature several ponds formed from abandoned gravel pits filled with groundwater. The County had to replace out-of-priority stream depletions caused by evaporation from those ponds. To meet this obligation, the County filed an application for underground water rights, approval of a plan for augmentation, a change of water rights, and an appropriative right of substitution and exchange. The water court dismissed the application without prejudice, and the County now appeals that judgment. The components of the County’s application were interdependent, such that approval of the application as a whole hinged on approval of the plan for augmentation, which in turn hinged on approval of the change of water rights. To ensure this change would not unlawfully expand the Bailey Farm's water rights, the County conducted a parcel-specific historical consumptive use (“HCU”) analysis of that right. The water court found this HCU analysis inadequate for several reasons and therefore concluded the County failed to carry its burden of accurately demonstrating HCU. The pivotal consideration in this case was whether the County carried its burden of proving HCU. Like the water court, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. The Court therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment on that basis. View "Cty. of Boulder v. Boulder & Weld Cty. Ditch Co." on Justia Law

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Boulder County chose to develop "the Bailey Farm" into a public open-space park which would feature several ponds formed from abandoned gravel pits filled with groundwater. The County had to replace out-of-priority stream depletions caused by evaporation from those ponds. To meet this obligation, the County filed an application for underground water rights, approval of a plan for augmentation, a change of water rights, and an appropriative right of substitution and exchange. The water court dismissed the application without prejudice, and the County now appeals that judgment. The components of the County’s application were interdependent, such that approval of the application as a whole hinged on approval of the plan for augmentation, which in turn hinged on approval of the change of water rights. To ensure this change would not unlawfully expand the Bailey Farm's water rights, the County conducted a parcel-specific historical consumptive use (“HCU”) analysis of that right. The water court found this HCU analysis inadequate for several reasons and therefore concluded the County failed to carry its burden of accurately demonstrating HCU. The pivotal consideration in this case was whether the County carried its burden of proving HCU. Like the water court, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. The Court therefore affirmed the water court’s judgment on that basis. View "Cty. of Boulder v. Boulder & Weld Cty. Ditch Co." on Justia Law

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In 2011, In 2011, Regional Transportation District (“RTD”) filed a petition in condemnation against 750 West 48th Avenue, LLC (“Landowner”) to acquire approximately the approximately 1.6 acre property a light rail project. Landowner was leasing the property to a commercial waterproofing business ("Tenant"). Over the years, Landowner made several luxury improvements to the property, including adding a steam room, fitness room, atrium, ceramic and cherry-wood flooring, and marble and granite finishes. The parties stipulated to every condemnation issue except the property's reasonable market value. Landowner elected to litigate the property's value through a commission trial. RTD established the value at $1.8 million; Landowner thought the property was worth $2.57 million. Landowner's calculations focused solely on the cost of replacement; RTD based its estimation on a "superadequacy" theory, asserting that many of the luxury improvements that Landowner made to an industrial property would not fetch a price on the open market commensurate with the cost of replacement. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the interplay between the respective authorities of the supervising judge and the commission to make evidentiary rulings in eminent domain valuation hearings. Specifically, the Court considered: (1) whether a commission could alter a supervising judge's ruling in limine regarding admissibility, and (2) whether the supervising judge could instruct the commission to disregard as irrelevant evidence that the commission had previously admitted. The Supreme Court held that judicial evidentiary rulings controlled in valuation hearings. Thus, the Court affirmed the court of appeals' judgment insofar as it approved the supervising judge instructing the commission to disregard previously admitted evidence as irrelevant. The Court reversed that portion of the appellate court's opinion permitting the commission to alter the judge's evidentiary ruling in limine. View "RTD v. 750 West 48th Ave., LLC" on Justia Law