Residents sue to upend plan to convert lodge to drug treatment site
Residents of the luxury Cordillera community near Vail have sued the owners of the village’s centerpiece lodge, arguing the plan to sell the tony facility to a drug rehabilitation center has cost property owners $100 million in real estate value.
The lawsuit targets Robert Behringer, whose Texas-based Behringer Harvard investment firm is under contract to sell the 56-room Lodge & Spa at Cordillera and its surrounding acreage to the Consumer Care Group, a Baltimore company that wants to convert the lodge campus to a high-end, inpatient drug addiction treatment facility. The suit argues that Behringer and his team lied when they pursued a 2009 modification to Cordillera’s Planned Unit Development Guide, which detailed 34 potential uses of the lodge and so-called Village Center land, including office space, athletic facilities, an amphitheater and medical offices.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in Denver, seeks class action status for at least 100 Cordillera property owners.
In 2009, the Eagle County Commissioners approved the Behringer Harvard modification, saying it “does not propose any new or additional uses within the Cordillera PUD.”
“On one hand, Behringer Harvard says there are not any changes and no additional uses and the commissioners approve their request and now the commissioners say, well, under that 2009 amendment this treatment center is a permissible use even though under the previous 2003 PUD, it would never have been allowed,” said Russ Schmeiser, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit who bought his family memberships to the lodge and clubhouse before he bought a
home adjacent to the lodge in 2014. “That is not right.”
Behringer Harvard in May reached a deal to sell the lodge to Consumer Care Group, which announced plans to replace the lodge with a residential drug addiction treatment and wellness center that will cost patients as much as $65,000 a month. The lodge would be closed to anyone who isn’t a patient, including Cordillera residents.
Consumer Care Group CEO Noah Nordheimer said the lawsuit will not delay the company’s $85 million plan to buy and convert the lodge into an 80-room treatment center. Although the sale has not yet closed, he said he plans to shut down the lodge on Feb. 28.
“This project is not slowing down for frivolous lawsuits,” he said.
Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said these community fights are not uncommon in Colorado. Neighbors rarely welcome methadone clinics or group homes or drug treatment centers. Approvals for substance abuse facilities often address property rights, Americans with Disabilities Act issues and the growing need for treatment centers as the nation endures what he said the federal government calls an unprecedented opioid epidemic.
“It’s a very serious problem and it’s a very complex problem,” Mamet said. “I know this has been an issue that communities across the state have dealt with for years.”
The lawsuit claims the decision to convert the lodge to a private facility “has delayed purchases and sales of property in the Cordillera community and depressed property values in Cordillera by a cumulative amount exceeding $100 million.”
According to the Eagle County MLS there were five homes sales in Cordillera between January and April, before Nordheimer went under contract to buy the lodge. Those sales averaged $312.72 per square foot. From May through November there were 29 sales with an average price-per-square foot of $325.97.
The Cordillera Property Owners Association and the Cordillera Metropolitan District last month filed judicial appeals in Eagle County District Court asking a judge to overturn the countycommission approval of the treatment center.
The U.S. District Court claim is asking the court to require resident approval of the lodge plan, award damages for declines in property values, and to overturn the 2009 Eagle County PUD amendment.
Eagle County’s 2017 Community Health Improvement Plan cites increased mental health and substance abuse treatment services as a priority, but the plan for the lodge at Cordillera likely will be out of reach for most residents of Eagle County, where per capita income is less than $40,000.
Nordheimer said he will direct $1,000 for each patient at the Cordillera facility toward Eagle County’s detox and substance abuse programs. The county’s detox center closed in October due to funding struggles.
In a written statement, Nordheimer offered a quote from treatment advocate Tom McLellan, who served as President Obama’s deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
“Addiction treatment can be extremely effective with recovery now an expectable outcome,” McLellan’s statement said. “Given these facts surely no truly civic-minded community would try to prevent care from being available for its affected citizens.”
Nordheimer, who struggled with pain pill addiction after a back surgery, said there is increasing demand for rehabilitation as the number of opioid deaths across the country reach record levels. He hopes to employ 100 workers at his facility and earlier this year sent two of his addiction treatment clinicians to Eagle County to train first responders on addressing substance abuse problems.
“We are committed to helping as many people as we can,” he said. “We are hopeful (Cordillera residents) will begin to work with us instead of against us, but either way we are moving forward.”
Consumer Care Group CEO Noah Nordheimer said the lawsuit will not delay the company’s $85 million plan to buy and convert the lodge into an 80-room treatment center. Jason