$400,000 buys property - and a vote

  • Development at Mountain Village near Telluride - Rob Huber/Telluride Time

    ournal
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Eagle County balks at fourth mega-resort.

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE, Colo. - Rich or poor, each American casts a single ballot: one person, one vote. Except here in Colorado's newest town, where the real estate investors vote and the seasonal workers usually can't.

Mountain Village is a gated community zoned for 8,000 people, although only about 800 occupy homes there now. It's close to the ski area and 750 feet above the former mining town of Telluride. Ski slopes and golf fairways wind their way among huge log "cabins' in a town founded and governed by Telluride ski company executives and wealthy developers.

Even if they already vote in New York, Los Angeles or Dallas, property owners can vote here, too; a whopping 85 percent of them are non-residents. They've paid dearly for this right: An empty residential lot now costs over $400,000, and the average house sells for $1.3 million.

Employee housing, according to the town charter, is concentrated in two of the seven voting districts. Seasonal workers can only vote if they satisfy a six-month residency requirement: six times longer than anywhere else in Colorado.

The rules have freed Mountain Village from the constraints of neighboring Telluride, where 20 percent of tax income is diverted to open-space acquisition. Mountain Village had its biggest construction year to date in 1995. By year's end, $62 million in real estate changed hands. By comparison, Telluride real estate sales were down 30 percent in 1995.

But are the voting restrictions legal? The American Civil Liberties Union filed a civil-rights class-action lawsuit against Mountain Village, saying the town had created an unconstitutional scheme to concentrate representation in the hands of real estate interests. The ACLU noted that celebrity non-residents such as Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump and Sylvester Stallone receive ballots in the mail while local residents must drive to the polls.

Meanwhile, some town employees are rebelling. Mountain Village Police Chief Jim Prendergast, a former Outward Bound instructor and Paonia, Colo., police chief, resigned in January. He called the town's voting rules "unethical," and said he was disturbed by the town's retaliation against one of the few resident homeowners, Joan May, who works at Telluride's public radio station. Because May is a critic of the voting laws, and had tipped off the ACLU, the town named her in a lawsuit of its own.

Pendergast's resignation and heat from the ACLU have not flustered Mountain Village Mayor Darrell Huschke. "We'll do whatever it takes (to maintain the voting system)," he said recently, breaking an official silence with the media.

Boasting aside, there is little to suggest Mountain Village will prevail in court. When ACLU lawyers tried to track down any legal research performed by the author of the town charter, Mountain Village attorney Carroll Boudreaux, they found none. Mountain Village sacked Boudreaux shortly thereafter.

The ACLU's case against the town was filed Jan. 22 in federal court. Attorney Barry Satlow says the town's voting rules violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. He also says they are part of a larger plan to avoid county and state land-use laws and make development easier for real estate interests.

Morgan Lee works for the Daily Planet in Telluride, Colorado.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]