Steamboat’s Humble Ranch land deal based on faulty trust
Purchase involved numerous entities, unfulfilled plans
July 23, 2010
Steamboat Springs — After a land purchase boosted by $950,000 in public funding and despite revenues from 16 lots created through a public land preservation process, Ed Trousil cited a lack of money as a potential reason for not building a cabin that would increase public access to trails on his property on the south side of Emerald Mountain.
"There could be issues of finance, money, timing," Trousil said in a November 2008 court deposition to Denver lawyer Thomas Lyons, of Hall & Evans. Lyons, representing the city of Steamboat Springs in litigation against Humble Ventures LLC, the legal entity for Humble Ranch, had asked Trousil what kept him from building the cabin.
When Lyons asked how much money a cabin might cost, Trousil replied, "I don't know." When Lyons pressed the issue, Trousil stated, "We are not ready to spend money on a community cabin today." When Lyons asked whether Trousil had no obligation, ever, to build the cabin, Trousil replied, "That is correct."
Construction of a public cabin is necessary to open public access to trails that were a key piece of a massive, collaborative land conservation effort more than a decade ago. Courts have ruled that the construction is at Humble Ranch's discretion, based on language in real estate contracts related to the land's purchase. Judges with Routt County District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals have ruled in Humble Ranch's favor.
Trousil's deposition indicates that decision to build likely is not coming in the near future.
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"One of the highlights was to open the ranch up to the public — to a public trail system, including the construction of a community wilderness cabin in the uplands, do you see that?" Josh Marks, a lawyer for the Yampa Valley Land Trust, asked Trousil in the November 2008 deposition. Marks was referring to language in a letter Trousil wrote to nearby homeowners in March 1999, asking for their support before he closed on the Humble Ranch purchase.
"No, I think you left out the word future construction," Trousil replied.
The ongoing litigation involving trail access at Humble Ranch, off Routt County Road 14 south of Steamboat Springs, has infuriated former city and county officials, cost the city more than $100,000 in legal expenses and spurred debates about private property rights versus the trust and vision behind a deal created through groups including the Emerald Mountain Partnership and the Yampa River System Legacy Project.
"It's obvious to everyone that was involved in the process that Humble Ranch, Ed Trousil, bought that piece of property knowing about the community trails, knowing about the community cabin, and he's using the legal system to get out of those things," former Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall, a former chairman of the Emerald Mountain Partnership, said this week.
The city has a pending petition filed with the Colorado Supreme Court, asking it to review a ruling in favor of Humble Ranch made in Routt County District Court and upheld by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
"Two courts have ruled in favor of Humble … (and) nothing, frankly, has changed," attorney Colin Deihl, of Faegre & Benson in Denver, said Wednesday. "I don't see why the Supreme Court would be any different."
Deihl represents Humble Ventures. Trousil declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing legal proceedings.
He has said the trails closure is to protect wildlife habitat — the state Division of Wildlife closes the Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area, at the top of Agate Creek Trail, from Dec. 1 to June 30 because of elk concerns — and to prevent impacts on the Humble Ranch Education & Therapy Center.
Trousil gave lengthy depositions to lawyers including Lyons, Marks and Brad Cameron, representing the DOW. Devi Yorty, of Hall & Evans, said this week that Trousil's November 2008 statements have not played much, if at all, into the legal proceedings.
"It's pretty much, 'I don't remember,' 'I don't remember,'" Yorty said.
That's true — as Trousil tried to recall specifics about a land deal nearly a decade in the past, comments including "I don't know" and "I don't remember" are common in the transcript. But his words do indicate his mindset toward the land purchase negotiations and what has unfolded since.
In the late '90s, Trousil was one of several candidates who submitted a proposal for the purchase and use of about 1,800 acres south of Emerald Mountain.
The site was part of the 4,000-acre Yampa Valley Land & Cattle Co. property, which the Yampa River System Legacy Project was working to preserve through transactions and land conservation efforts worth more than $10 million.
Beall, former Steamboat Springs City Council President Kevin Bennett and a Land Trust official have said that a Legacy Project committee chose Trousil as its buyer because of his stated commitment to open space and a public trail system, along with his idea for an on-site therapy center for people with special needs.
Bennett wrote in a November 2008 court affidavit, and Trousil said in his deposition, that Trousil received $950,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado when he closed on land for Humble Ranch. Great Outdoors Colorado, GOCo, uses a portion of state lottery revenues to fund grants supporting Colorado's natural environment.
The GOCo dollars were channeled through the Legacy Project and went to Trousil as payment for a conservation easement. The money went toward Trousil's down payment for the land purchase, Bennett wrote, and enabled Trousil to sell 16 lots at what became the Agate Creek Preserve land preservation subdivision. Sue and Ted Swain, for example, bought their lot in June 1999 — a month after Trousil closed on Humble Ranch — for $325,000, according to county records.
Marks alluded to those revenues in Trousil's deposition nearly two years ago.
The conversation, as recorded in the deposition, went as follows:
Marks: "You subsequently went and developed the Agate Creek Preserve, correct?"
Trousil: "That's correct."
Marks: "OK. And you received revenue from that project?"
Marks: "Did you ever take any of the monies from that and throw it into a fund for the construction of the community cabin?"
Marks: "Why not?"
Trousil: "We didn't feel it was necessary."
Links to previous stories about the city's litigation with Humble Ventures, and a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today from Ed and Cheri Trousil.
■ April 15 — Humble Ranch litigation costs city $104K
■ April 4 — Letter from Ed and Cheri Trousil
■ March 31 — Letter from Gloria James
Routt County Riders, which has no position on the city's litigation with Humble Ranch, is encouraging mountain bikers to respect private property rights and is building new trails on public BLM land adjoining the Emerald Mountain State Wildlife Area.