Park sues notorious developer

  • LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The Painted Wall at the Black Canyon



The National Park Service says it won't buckle under to Tom Chapman, the Colorado developer who has a history of marketing luxury homes on private inholdings within the state's wilderness areas and forests (HCN, 7/5/99: Wilderness developer Tom Chapman is back). Officials at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park near Montrose, Colo., are suing to keep TDX, L.P., an Alabama corporation with ties to Chapman, from developing its 113-acre inholding on the park's south rim.

A TDX billboard near the park advertises plans to develop a commercial campground, a bed and breakfast and private homes, all with spectacular views of the canyon. The company already has county permits to begin building on some of the lots. The development of the TDX inholding "would mean that from anywhere on the rim, you could see private development," says Park Superintendent Sheridan Steele. He says Park Service negotiations to buy the parcel outright from TDX last year broke down over the exorbitant price tag. "I believe it's their intent to force the government to buy (the parcel) at an elevated price," he says. "We have no choice now but to let the court decide what the real value of the land is."

The U.S. Attorney's office in Denver filed the case this August on behalf of the park, and a hearing date has recently been set for the case. Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the attorney's office, says TDX's history is part of the reason for going to court.

"That's the purpose of the deal," he says, "not only what they plan on doing but what they've done in the past."

In the past, land-management agencies have negotiated to buy the parcels at elevated prices, or have traded them for other high-profile lands. The park wants to condemn the TDX inholdings and force the company to sell a conservation easement on the property. Barbara Solhoff, a land-acquisition specialist for the Park Service, says many national parks can legally condemn private lands within their boundaries. Black Canyon was specifically given this power, she says, when Congress upgraded it from a monument to a park last year.

TDX is contesting the park's right to condemn the land, but could not be reached for comment on the issue. The case will likely go to trial sometime early next year.

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