After taking an official position in favor of the Town of Pagosa Springs’ efforts to bring Wal-Mart to town (see related article), the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners voted 2-1 to quit-claim deed any interest in Alpha Road to the town.
Alpha Road, of which ownership is a question still officially unanswered, is slated to be the primary entrance to Wal-Mart’s proposed site in Aspen Village.
In considering a quit-claim deed during Tuesday’s meeting, County Attorney Todd Starr said he believed the county owned the road and presented four basic options to the commissioners, highlighting pluses and minuses of each option.
The first option, Starr said, was the isolation option, or taking no action.
Pluses, Starr said, include avoiding tough political questions and recognizing that facts may change as the project progresses.
Minuses highlighted by Starr include that the county has no reason to keep the road, the decision to do nothing would likely result in costly litigation, and that facts may change.
The second option given by Starr was to ask for a declaratory judgement through the courts.
That option would get a firm answer, Starr indicated, but he added the negatives of the county potentially not liking the answer, the cost of litigation (having affected property owners served in the suit), having to show proof, and that the answer given may not be limited to the question asked in the suit.
“A bad settlement is always better than a good trial,” Starr noted.
The third option given by Starr was to let someone else file a suit.
Starr mentioned no pluses for the option, but again noted that the county has, “no business” owning the road. He said the county would have to defend itself in any suits brought forward (creating a monetary risk), and noted that a Memorandum of Understanding exists between the county and the town determining that the county would file a petition of annexation to include the road in the town.
Starr noted that, while the county enjoys governmental immunity, it would still be open to liability in the case of a lawsuit brought by a third party.
The fourth option presented was the quit-claim deed, which Starr said would rid the county of the road, would not require an official position and, should litigation arise, the county would have the opportunity to file a disclaimer citing the quit-claim deed.
Starr noted that a quit-claim deed does not depend on ownership of the road and does not ask the county to admit or deny ownership, but simply gives whatever ownership or interest the county may have to the town.
As an example, Starr said he could technically quit-claim deed Commissioner Steve Wadley’s house to County Administrator Greg Schulte, despite the fact he has no ownership of Wadley’s house and may not be giving anything.
Wadley added that, in the event that someone does claim ownership of the road, none of that owner’s interest would have been transferred to the town.
“We’re only giving away that which we have,” Starr said.
Commissioner Michael Whiting noted that all options included potential litigation, asking who would be sued and who would be suing, with Starr responding that there had been no threats of litigation, but that area resident Vivian Rader had stopped just short of a threat (a claim Rader later denied).
Whiting noted that, at the time of the agreement with the town to annex the road (2006), the county must have thought it owned the road.
Starr said the quit-claim deed would release the county from that obligation, though the results would not be the same — the annexation would leave ownership (and presumably maintenance) with the county, while the quit-claim deed would transfer ownership.
Starr also denied a claim that the county did not want to find the owner of the road, stating that, based on the MoU with the town and other evidence, he believes the county owned the road.
Whiting then questioned the value of the road as an asset to the county, later clarifying that the county could use the road as leverage in the situation, specifically to be heard as the process moves forward.
Starr said he would be hard-pressed to put a monetary value on the road, later adding that using it as leverage would be a policy decision.
Whiting was then given the opportunity to make a motion. He responded, saying, “I’ll make a motion, but you won’t like it.”
Wadley then made a motion to quit-claim any county ownership or interest to the town and Commissioner Clifford Lucero seconded the motion, opening the floor to public comment.
Mark Weiler was the first up, suggesting that no litigation would be worth the result.
Rader was the second up, denying any threats of litigation and stating that during a meeting she had with county staff, a fifth option of two commissioners taking a stance that the county owned the road was mentioned. She also noted that it had been decided the road had no value without public input and that, if the county owned the road, the ownership would have to be recorded per state statute.
Muriel Eason said the road was the only leverage the county had to give it input and protect county residents, who are the most affected by the Wal-Mart.
Udgar Parsons pointed to a prior statement by Starr in which Starr expressed the opinion that the county did not own the road and had suggested that a title search be completed to determine ownership. Parsons added there was still no clarity concerning ownership of the road.
Gary Williams asked why the same effort was not being given to the road as has been given to determining lodging rentals that were not paying the proper taxes.
With no further public comment, Lucero asked Wadley to reread the motion.
Whiting then suggested that the Mal-Mart issue is like rocket fuel — expensive and dangerous — with the need to check every detail.
“To move forward on this is a mistake,” Whiting said.
Lucero pointed out that the town has said it would take the road, which the county doesn’t need or want.
With that, Lucero called for a vote, with he and Wadley in favor and Whiting against.