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Colorado rejects limit on open-space land seizures

By: The Associated Press
February 17, 2015 Updated: February 17, 2015 at 5:43 pm
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DENVER — A bipartisan group of Colorado senators rejected a proposal Tuesday to limit government seizures of private land for open space.

The bill would have prevented counties from using eminent-domain laws to seize private land for open space, parks, conservation or preservation of views.

The measure was inspired by a Summit County family that sold a 10-acre parcel on an old mining claim last year after a long court battle with the county. The county used eminent domain to acquire the parcel.

"Personal property rights are so ingrained in this country that we should never be taking land for open space," said the sponsor of the measure, Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.

A Democrat who voted against the proposal said it was too broad. "I think adequate due process is in place" to protect property rights against government seizures, said Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins.

Two Republicans on the committee joined Democrats in defeating the measure.

One of the Republicans, Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, said the bill wasn't necessary.

"This is not something I think is being abused," she said of counties' eminent-domain powers.

Earlier this month, a lawyer for Summit County told lawmakers that the parcel near Breckenridge was seized only after lengthy negotiations with the owner. He urged lawmakers not to reduce counties' ability to seize property with a bill.

"It would eliminate a very seldom used but certainly important tool that counties have to further the public interest and protect important natural resources," said Summit's lawyer, Jeff Huntley.

Eminent domain is the ability of government to seize land to promote economic development or build roads and railroads.

In the Summit County case, officials used eminent domain after learning the property owners were driving their ATV up a 1.2-mile, old mining road to their cabin, surrounded by a national forest. The nearest home is a mile away.

"It is such a beautiful place, and we're trying to protect it," Huntley told lawmakers earlier this month.

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