Tree Farm Dispute Expands

Tree Farm Dispute Expands

A developer with a major stake in the Tree Farm project in El Jebel wants to sell to another developer rather than continue to engage in what he said will be a lengthy legal fight with Ace Lane, the former property owner who got the project approved.

Scottsdale, Arizona-based developer Walt Brown Jr. is trying to sell four parcels on the west side of Kodiak Lake for $14.87 million. The property comes with approvals for 21 free-market units, 35 free-market apartments, 10 for-sale affordable housing units and about 18,000 square feet for restaurants, retail space and offices.

“We’re either going to sell it or we’re going to spend the next couple of years battling it out in court,” Brown said.

Brown purchased some of the most lucrative property in the Tree Farm on March 31, 2022. It includes the Lakeview parcel with 13,277 square feet of commercial space on the lower floor and 14 luxury condominium units on the second and third floors. His agreement with Lane’s company, Tree Farm RFV LLC, required Brown to obtain approvals from the Tree Farm’s development review board and a building permit from Eagle County within 400 days of closing on the land.

Tree Farm RFV filed a lawsuit against Brown in June, contending that he had failed to live up to that requirement in the purchase agreement and therefore had to abide by terms in a buy-back option. Lane’s firm said Brown had to sell some of the property back to Tree Farm RFV. Lane amended his complaint in September to include the remainder of Brown’s property in the repurchase bid.

The two sides cannot agree on terms of the sale or the purchase price Lane’s company would have to pay Brown’s companies. Lane is offering about $10 million, Brown said. That doesn’t include the drastic appreciation in property values experienced in the Roaring Fork Valley during the post-pandemic surge or the money spent on architecture and design of the buildings on the four parcels, Brown said.

In his view, a different developer should be able to see eye-to-eye with Lane better than he was able. Brown said a new developer could cut a check to the Eagle County building department and get to work almost immediately on the project.

“It would be a quick and easy resolution to the lawsuit,” Brown said.

A representative of Tree Farm RFV said neither he nor the attorneys in the case would comment on litigation or how a sale to a different developer would be viewed.

The attorneys in the case anticipate a five-day trial. No trial date has been set yet. Attorneys are working through the fact-finding process in discovery.

The lawsuit doesn’t affect other components of the Tree Farm project. A separate developer is racing to open the Hoffman Hotel this ski season. Another developer has completed part of an apartment complex on the east side of Kodiak Lake.

Brown’s property is being listed as a whole but the four parcels — Lakeview, Northside, Creekside and The Edge — also are listed individually. Real estate agents Harrison Sach and Jacquelyn Carr of Engels and Volkers have the listing. 

While the case largely pits a private developer against the former property owner and visionary of the project, there is public interest in the dispute as well. Eagle County regulations required Lane’s firm to provide 85 affordable housing units. He proposed 40 rental and 10 for-sale units in the affordable housing mix. Lane received extra credit in Eagle County’s complicated housing regulations process by committing to rent 25 of the affordable housing apartments to households making 80% or less of the area median income.

To exceed the necessary affordable housing, Lane’s team proposed providing up to 150 resident-occupied units that won’t have a cap on sales prices but must be sold to full-time valley residents.

Eagle County’s regulations required that the 40 rental units had to be constructed and issued a certificate of occupancy by the time the first 142,000 net square feet of the project was completed.

The regulations said that two for-sale affordable housing units had to be constructed upon completion of each of the next four 74,438 net square feet segments of the project. The final two deed-restricted, for-sale units had to be completed concurrently with the last 74,438 segment of the project.

In other words, Eagle County required construction of affordable housing as the project progressed. However, none of the for-sale units have been constructed as the hotel and apartment complex progressed.

Kim Bell Williams, director of the Eagle County housing office, said Tuesday afternoon it wasn’t her department’s duty to track the construction of affordable housing as the project progresses.

“I am unaware of the development progress (how much NSF has been constructed) to date,” Bell Williams wrote in an email. “It would be best to check in with Community Development on those details.”

Officials with the community development department couldn’t be immediately reached for comment on whether the affordable housing requirements have kept pace with the level of development at the Tree Farm.


Scott Condon | Aspen Daily News | November 1, 2023

Work With Katherine