Wal-Mart purchases Aspen Village land


Staff Writer

Wal-Mart still has not pulled a building permit, according to a Monday morning interview with town planner James Dickhoff, but a check of the records at the county clerk’s office revealed that on June 25 the Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust finally purchased the land in the Aspen Village subdivision where the proposed 92,000 square-foot supercenter will be built.

Dickhoff said Wal-Mart is still working out the details of a developer improvement agreement for Alpha Drive. The proposed store will be located at the intersection of Alpha Drive and Aspen Village Drive, and as a condition of the approval of the major design review, the town’s planning commission required Wal-Mart bring Alpha Drive up to town standards. Currently, that section of road is only gravel.

Before the planning department will issue a building permit, Wal-Mart must present engineered plans for a curb, gutter, sidewalk and asphalt pavement for the section of Alpha Drive between Aspen Village Drive and U.S. 160. Wal-Mart must also submit a bond for the full estimated cost of the improvement to ensure the project gets finished, just in case the company backs out.

In addition, Wal-Mart must submit proof of a permit from the Colorado Department of Transportation for the access points on U.S. 160 and a wetlands mitigation permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. According to Dickhoff, those permits have already been issued to Wal-Mart; he just needs to see them.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Wal-Mart has done all of this without owning the property,” local attorney Matt Roane wrote, responding via e-mail to the news of Wal-Mart’s recent land purchase. “They probably purchased an option to buy at the outset and have now exercised the option foreseeing no remaining insurmountable hurdles to breaking ground.”

At a recent town council meeting, Mayor Ross Aragon complained that Roane is apparently still trying to stop Wal-Mart from coming to town. This was in response to Roane filing an open records request for all documents related to the annexation of Alpha Drive.

“It seems as if I’m the only one still driving the Walmart-opposition bus,” Roane’s e-mail continued. “While many privately encourage my on-going efforts, no one has hired me.  It’s the same-old story — they all fear town-retribution.  And frankly, my real problem is not with Walmart — it’s the council’s willingness to disregard the law to appease the megastore that truly concerns me.”

When asked why he had requested the documents on Alpha Drive, Roane gave a detailed explanation of the timeline and the actions the town has taken.

On Aug. 14, 2012, Archuleta County deeded Alpha Drive to the town. “For purposes of this discussion only,” Roane conceded, “I’ll presume Archuleta County possessed title to the road.”

On Sept. 6 the town council completed its second reading of Ordinance 775, accepting the quitclaim deed under the condition that Wal-Mart would post a financial security to ensure the improvement of Alpha Drive to town standards. The town will not accept ownership of the road until Wal-Mart completes the improvements.

On Dec. 20 the town petitioned itself to annex Alpha Drive. In the official petition, the town characterized itself as the landowner of 100 percent of the area proposed for annexation. The town’s characterization was necessary to comply with the state constitution’s requirement that annexation petitions be signed by at least 50 percent of the landowners of the area proposed for annexation.

The town council conducted the required annexation procedures and ultimately approved annexation specifically premised upon the town’s alleged ownership of the road.

As confirmed by Dickhoff on Monday, Wal-Mart still has not posted the required financial security needed to trigger the town’s conditional acceptance of Archuleta County’s quitclaim deed.  In other words, the town still has not formally accepted the quitclaim deed and there still has been no official transfer of title.

Consequently, the prior annexation proceedings were initiated, reviewed, and approved under a false presumption of ownership. However, according to the Colorado Revised Statutes the only people allowed to appeal an annexation decision are landowners or electors residing in the area proposed for annexation. Since, obviously, no electors reside on the portion of Alpha Drive at issue, the town’s decision to annex Alpha Drive is appeal-proof.

“My concerns are not being raised for the first time,” Roane concluded. “As you may remember, Councilman (David) Schanzenbaker questioned the wisdom of annexing Alpha Drive before the Town owned the road at the second reading of Ordinance No. 784. (Town planner) David Mitchem, however, provided one of his infamous non-answers and the council marched forward undeterred.  It is a strategy that is all-too-frequently employed by our town leaders.”