Justia Colorado Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use

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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

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In 2011, Regional Transportation District ("RTD") filed a petition in condemnation against 750 West 48th Ave., LLC ("Landowner") to acquire the property for development of a light rail project. Landowner was leasing the property to a commercial waterproofing business. Over the years, Landowner had made several luxury improvements to the property, including adding a steam room, a fitness room, an 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, in which a trial judge appointed three independent freeholders to determine the value of a condemned property under a judge's supervision. RTD estimated the reasonable market value of the condemned property at $1,800,000. Landowner proffered a reasonable market value of $2,570,000. While 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 had made to the industrial property would not fetch a price on the open market commensurate with their costs of replacement. To bolster its theory, RTD sought to introduce the two pieces of evidence central to this appeal: (1) testimony from expert witness Steve Serenyi regarding alternate approaches to calculating the value, including comparable property values and an income-based approach; and (2) evidence regarding the value of the property to which Landowner relocated its business. The Colorado Supreme Court surmised that the overarching issue in this case 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, at issue was: (1) whether a commission may alter a supervising judge's ruling in limine regarding admissibility; and (2) whether the supervising judge may instruct the commission to disregard as irrelevant evidence that the commission had previously admitted. The Court held that judicial evidentiary rulings controlled in valuation hearings. Thus, the Court affirmed the court of appeals 'judgment insofar as it approved of the supervising judge instructing the commission to disregard previously admitted evidence as irrelevant and reverse that portion of the court of appeals opinion permitting the commission to alter the judge's evidentiary ruling in limine. View "RTD v. 750 West 48th Ave., LLC" on Justia Law

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St. Jude’s Co. made a direct appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court a water court decision entered in favor of the Roraring Fork Club, LLC. With regard to the Club’s two applications for water rights, the water court granted appropriative rights, approved the Club’s accompanying augmentation plan, and amended the legal description of the Club’s point of diversion for an already decreed right. With regard to the separate action filed by St. Jude’s Co., the water court denied all but one of its claims for trespass, denied its claims for breach of a prior settlement agreement with the Club, denied its claims for declaratory and injunctive relief concerning its asserted entitlement to the exercise of powers of eminent domain, quieted title to disputed rights implicated in the Club’s application for an augmentation plan, and awarded attorney fees in favor of the Club, according to the terms of the settlement agreement of the parties. Upon review of St. Jude's arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court concluded the Club failed to demonstrate an intent to apply the amount of water for which it sought a decree to any beneficial use. Accordingly, the Court reversed the water court with regard to appropriative rights. The Court found no other reversible errors in the water court's decision. The case was remanded for further proceedings, including a determination of the Club's request for appellate attorney fees. View "St. Jude's Co. v. Roaring Fork Club, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were two water court rulings upholding the Special Improvement District No. 1 (“Subdistrict”) of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District’s (“District”) and the State Engineer’s approval of the 2012 Annual Replacement Plan (“ARP”) developed pursuant to the Subdistrict’s decreed Plan of Water Management (“Amended Plan”). In "San Antonio, Los Pinos & Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association v. Special Improvement District No. 1" (“San Antonio”), (270 P.3d 927 (Colo. 2011)), the Supreme Court affirmed the water court’s May 2010 Decree that approved the Subdistrict’s Amended Plan and imposed additional decree conditions on that Plan. The 2012 ARP under review here was the first ARP prepared pursuant to the Subdistrict’s Amended Plan. Water levels in the unconfined aquifer within the Subdistrict declined significantly due to increased groundwater consumption and sustained drought. The Amended Plan required the Subdistrict to prepare, and obtain the State Engineer’s approval of, an ARP that prevented injury to senior water rights. Objectors San Antonio, Los Pinos and Conejos River Acequia Preservation Association Save Our Senior Water Rights, LLC, Richard Ramstetter, and Costilla Ditch Company were senior surface water right holders on the Rio Grande River and its tributaries. They appealed two pretrial rulings as well as a judgment and decree upholding the 2012 ARP. Upon review of the objections, the Supreme Court concluded that the 2012 ARP complied with the Amended Plan and 2010 Decree, and protected against injury. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the water court's pretrial orders, judgment and decree pertaining to the 2012 ARP. View "San Antonio, Los Pinos & Conejos River Acequia Preservation" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a change of water rights filed by applicants East Cherry Creek Valley Water and Sanitation District and Colorado Water Network, Inc. (collectively, East Cherry Creek). East Cherry Creek submitted an application for change of water right involving shares it owned in the Greeley Irrigation Company (GIC) for use in its system. The Poudre Prairie Decree employed a ditch-wide analysis for calculating the amount of historical consumptive use ascribable to each GIC share. Subsequent decrees relied on the ditch-wide historical consumptive use determination made in the Poudre Decree. In making its application, East Cherry Creek asserted its ability to use the same Poudre pro-rata allocation of consumptive use water to its shares as occurred for previously changed shares in the ditch system. East Cherry Creek sought an order from the water court entering the court's denial of its Rule 56(h) motion as a final judgment, and the State and Division Engineers opposed the motion. The order was made final, and East Cherry Creek appealed denial of its Rule 54(b) motion to the Supreme Court. After review, the Court agreed with the Engineers that the water court's order did not constitute a final judgment on any claim for relief in the underlying change case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court's certification order, dismissed the appeal, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "East Cherry Creek Valley v. Wolfe" on Justia Law

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This water case involving neighboring property owners in Saguache County presented an issue of first impression for the Supreme Court: may the land owner whose property is burdened by an easement across his or her property for a water ditch obtain a junior conditional water right at the headgate of that ditch for non-consumptive hydropower use of water that the neighbor is diverting from the stream under a senior water right for irrigation use through that headgate? Applying the no material injury, water availability, and maximum beneficial use principles of Colorado water law, in conjunction the decision in "Roaring Fork Club, L.P. v. St. Jude’s Co.," (36P.3d 1229 (2001)), the District Court for Water Division No. 3 issued a declaratory judgment and a conditional water right decree in the amount of 0.41 cubic feet per second ("cfs") with a 2010 priority for hydropower use to Charles and Barbara Tidd for diversion from Garner Creek at the headgate of Garner Creek Ditch No. 1. The Plaintiffs–Appellants, David L. Frees, George A. Frees, Delmer E. Frees, and Shirley A. Frees, asserted that the water court lacked authority to decree this water right over their objection. After review, the Supreme Court deferred to the water court's findings of fact and upheld its conclusions of law. Under the circumstances of this case, the Court held that the water court did not err in issuing a conditional decree for a non-consumptive hydropower use water right with a 2010 priority for 0.41 cfs diverted from Garner Creek through the headgate of Garner Creek Ditch No. 1. View "Frees v. Tidd" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was a change-of-water-rights application filed by East Cherry Creek Valley Water & Sanitation District and the Colorado Water Network, Inc. (collectively, East Cherry Creek). East Cherry Creek submitted its application involving shares it owned in the Greeley Irrigation Company (GIC) for use in its water system. The "Poudre Prairie Decree" used a ditch-wide analysis for calculating the amount of historical consumptive use ascribable to each GIC share. East Cherry Creek asserted its ability to use the same Poudre Prairie pro-rata allocation of consumptive use water to its shares as occurred for previously changed shares in the ditch system. The water court denied East Cherry Creek's C.R.C.P. 56(h) motion. East Cherry Creek then sought an order entering the denial as a final judgment. The State and Division Engineers opposed the motion, but was overruled. East Cherry Creek then appealed its Rule 56(h) motion denial (raising three issues), and the Engineers cross-appealed (raising two issues). The Supreme Court agreed with the Engineers: that the trial court did not enter a final judgment on any claim for relief in this litigation. The water court's certification order was reversed, the appeal dismissed, and the case remanded for further proceedings at the water court. View "East Cherry Creek Valley v. Wolfe" on Justia Law