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By contrast, Porter extols the deal presented by Russell, with whom he's "been having conversations about this on and off." He describes Russell as having "the ability to get some stuff done" and points out that "an appraisal is just an opinion of value," one of several factors that need to be taken into account in deciding between a private-sector buyer and the TPL offer.

Minutes before the vote was taken on May 9, boardmembers pressed Porter for his take on what they should do. Porter, who conceded that he wore "several" hats in the community, replied, "Are you asking my advice? As an economic-development board member and a downtown businessperson, I certainly prefer private enterprise."

Porter didn't respond to a request for comment about the Polston sale, but testimony in a court hearing a few weeks ago suggests that there was some confusion among boardmembers about Porter's role in the deal. He had begun as a seller's agent and advisor to the board, but the closing documents list him as a "transaction broker" for the sale of the property to Russell. Under Colorado regulations, a transaction broker works with both sides without being an agent of either one. Porter collected a full 6 percent commission ($30,000) for the sale.

At public meetings and in court, park supporters Renee Mackey and others challenged the Alamosa school board’s decision to sell property to RV-resort developer Dan Russell for $250,000 less than their group was offering.
At public meetings and in court, park supporters Renee Mackey and others challenged the Alamosa school board’s decision to sell property to RV-resort developer Dan Russell for $250,000 less than their group was offering.
At public meetings and in court, park supporters Renee Mackey and others challenged the Alamosa school board’s decision to sell property to RV-resort developer Dan Russell for $250,000 less than their group was offering.
At public meetings and in court, park supporters Renee Mackey and others challenged the Alamosa school board’s decision to sell property to RV-resort developer Dan Russell for $250,000 less than their group was offering.

"In court, six out of seven school boardmembers testified that they didn't know if [Porter] was a seller's agent or a broker or when that had changed," says longtime activist Francisco Martinez, one of the attorneys for the park plaintiffs. "They were unaware of the difference." The seventh boardmember, an attorney, stated that Porter had properly performed and disclosed his part in the sale.

"The school board was very complacent," says gardener Oen. "They did not do their work, looking at TPL. I feel that Preston Porter had undue influence on the board. He planted the seed that they'd never see the money, that it would take too long."

Russell told the board that his project would provide as much as $50,000 a year in property taxes; he hoped to build around 200 RV lots, a private fishing pond, and eventually a gated community that would have ready access to a nearby golf course. But his project came with many caveats and "moving parts," too; it hinged on a land swap with the city, trading several acres of Polston land closest to Cole Park for ranch land owned by the city at the north end of the property, and annexation by the city to reduce tap fees and other costs. Yet those complexities didn't seem to bother Porter or the board nearly as much as similar uncertainties concerning the healthy living park.

Many in the Keep Polston Public group believed that Russell's tax calculations were overly optimistic. In the end, they maintained, the decision wasn't about who could offer the best price or which proposal would be best for Alamosa economically — assuming the school board had any business making that call. It was about the close-knit professional and personal relationships that exist in a small town, the web of influence and mutual backscratching that can skew policy and shape sweetheart deals.

As he kept reminding the board, Dan Russell belongs to a family that's lived in Alamosa for four generations; he's a graduate of Alamosa High School and Adams State, a respected local businessman and public official. Of the ten Keep Polston Public plaintiffs, only Danny Ledonne is an Alamosa native. Several of the others have lived there for fifteen, twenty or thirty years, but in the eyes of some natives, they are still newcomers, outliers — possibly even hippies from Crestone. Given a choice between two very different futures for the property, the board chose the known quantity.

Months later, Ledonne is still wrapping his head around the idea that his former elementary school, the place where he filmed all that gardening magic, is slated to be a stable for Winnebagos.

"I think Russell's RV resort is a great idea — for 1955," he says. "It's based on disposable income through tourism and a number of resources that continue to cost more, and I don't think that's a very recession-proof model. One reason I moved back to the valley is that I saw a lot of resilience coming from local communities that were able to support themselves. This model where you get your salad from 3,000 miles away is ending. We should really start thinking about how we build our infrastructure to be more self-sustaining, and that's why the healthy living park is a great idea for 2013."

***********

The school board concluded its sale of the Polston property to Russell on July 2, a month earlier than anticipated. The Keep Polston Public leaders promptly filed a lawsuit against the board, the school district and Russell, claiming that the open-meeting law had been violated and that the board had illegally provided a gift to a private entity by selling the property for $250,000 less than its appraised value.

The KPP plaintiffs soon obtained a temporary order halting work that Russell had begun on the property, including removing an acre of topsoil for a parking lot. In public meetings, Russell indicated that he'd be willing to give some of the topsoil to the "garden people," but he also complained in an affidavit that the plaintiffs were interfering with his plan to help finance construction on the property by selling the topsoil to landscapers; by his estimate, the alluvial topsoil is worth between $30,000 and $45,000 an acre.

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9 comments
civil.disobedience
civil.disobedience

It appears to me the existing RV parks, such as the one in Ft. Garland are not bringing in revenue, but slim shady tenants. Why add another?

Randy144
Randy144

Again and again, fascinating articles by Mr. Prendergast.  

This one was compelling, because it clearly described both sides of this complicated issue.

I went back and forth between thinking the local food concept was great, to thinking the Board made the right decision selling to a businessman. 

A local garden with land this valuable: a concept that may never work and that will probably never make money.  I look at the Community Gardens in Denver and Englewood and see the obvious inefficiency and absurdity. If this model could work, farmers would be tearing down houses and local farmers would be rich. Alas, the cost of these gardens is never logical or productive. Even with free land they barely produce enough to pay for the water used in the production of the 10 mini-crops that feed just a few, for just a few weeks.  If this were productive, everyone would have a producing garden in their yard. Only Government subsidies give this a chance to work, and then the business model is one that is not revenue producing for the local government.

And then, to see the Board sell this land for such a low price, with the topsoil alone worth the purchase price, is quite disturbing. What a deal that guy got. Wow. It reminds me of the old Resolution Trust deals where only the rich could buy and benefit from the low prices. All of this based on one appraisal. And the deal: 1% down on a commercial loan!!!  That is a heck of a lender, but also a strong sign that the property was undervalued and the bank loaning the money knows it.

All of this over nearly vacant land in a difficult economy.

In the end, it takes a businessman to take a property like this and turn it into something of value. Governments cannot do it. A local garden, even 30 acres, would not help Alamosa. The tax revenue from the new business will.

So many questions. Such a thought provoking article.

Great work.


Randy Brown




Johnathan Valdez
Johnathan Valdez

I grew up in the SLV and it's sad that this story doesn't surprise me at all. The Valley is an amazing place but the fact of the matter is that it is about 20 years behind the times. The "Valley bubble" that natives who've left so often joke about is very real and this is a perfect example of it. There's good reason why many SLV natives leave, myself included, and it's because of the backwards, antiquated thinking that plagues the region. Sad to see that a fantastic idea of a healthy living space was scraped for a paved black tar resort for Texans.

Ryan Terpstra
Ryan Terpstra

I'm not sad I left Alamosa at all. I grew up there, and it is one of the most shadily run deal-with-people-in-the-back-room towns I've ever had the displeasure of living in. If it doesn't involve lining the pockets of the legacy families that live in the town, nobody's interested. And I also learned from this article that a prick cousin of mine growing up is now on the school board. Neat. Another reason never to go back.

Brandon Fischer
Brandon Fischer

gardens are stupid, pave everything! alamosa needs a mcdonalds and starbucks there duh

Charlene McCune
Charlene McCune

by the way.. Alamosa has built in tourist attractions not to mention a really good college... if that town is having money problems to the point where the school district needs to sell the land for something like an RV park eyesore... then that is bad city management...

Charlene McCune
Charlene McCune

That is sad... it's disgusting how greed will trump common sense or community and civil loyalty.. oh that's right... I forgot .....

Bothe
Bothe

@Randy144 I agree with you Randy, if it were just a garden there wouldn't be much economic potential, but this quote from his other piece sheds more light on the project:  "What is a healthy living park? The Alamosa version, which would have been developed around a thriving community garden next to the Rio Grande river, called for trails connecting the area to an existing park on the other side of the river; a botanic garden and area for live music; half-acre farm plots in the rich topsoil that could be used for feeding local families and teaching sustainable methods to aspiring farmers; a commercial kitchen for small-batch bakers and chefs; a farm-fresh restaurant and production greenhouse; and more. Think park, small business incubator, and farmer's market, all rolled into one."     Keep in mind that we don't have a farm-to-table restaurant anywhere near Alamosa, there is a huge demand for one. 

Bothe
Bothe

@Brandon Fischer got a McDick's and three $tarbuck franchises, Ne$tle shop soon, too!

 
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