July 5, 2007

Magness loses long court fight over access road

The Denver Business Journal - 1:55 PM MDT Thursday, July 5, 2007

Colorado billionaire Gary Magness must pay damages to Park County neighbors involved in a lawsuit that has continued for nearly 10 years.

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued a ruling Thursday that affirmed a lower court's judgment against Magness. The appellate court ordered the case returned to the lower court for a trial on the amount of damages.

The case centers on a road Magness had built connecting the cul-de-sac road, Vista Lane, in the Woodside Park subdivision near Pine Junction, to his Hidden Valley Ranch. Park County commissioners gave Magness permission to build the road, which cut across a lot owned by Magness and one owned by George and Patricia Barilla.

The Barillas sued Magness and the Park County commissioners.

The Woodside Homeowners Association argued the subdivision plat did not contain an easement for a public road. Construction of the road was against the organization's covenants, the group said.

Magness countered by saying the easement had been verbally negotiated between his father and the developer of the subdivision.

Magness, heir of cable TV pioneer Bob Magness, is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Bob Magness died in 1996, a year before the trouble erupted over the Park County road.

Magness won the lawsuit at the district court level when the judge ruled the wording on the plat was unambiguous and allowed the easement for a road. Summary judgment was entered in Magness' favor.

But on subsequent appeal to the Court of Appeals in 2001, the higher court considered the wording ambiguous and reversed the judgment for Magness.

The case's return to Park County District Court ended in 2005 with Magness losing and a permanent injunction issued against construction of the road. The court later ordered Magness to pay the Barillas $75,000 in damages.

Magness appealed and argued the Barillas aren't entitled to damages for the value of their property being diminished. He didn't dispute that the grading for the road damaged the property.

The appeals court rejected Magness' argument. The higher court ordered the case returned to Park County District Court to conduct a trial on the Barillas' damages against Magness.

The appeals court also said Magness' construction of a public road on the easement violated the subdivision covenants.

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