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If Russell's estimate is correct, says agronomist O'Neill, then he could recoup the entire purchase price of the property by scraping and selling off the topsoil in areas of his resort that are simply going to be paved over. "There are probably sixteen or seventeen acres that are going to be scraped away," O'Neill says. "It would be prohibitively expensive to put it back, ever. They sold it at an incredibly low price; I don't know any two ways about it."

The lawsuit and temporary suspension of work on the property didn't improve relations between Russell and the plaintiffs. The developer had agreed to let the Guatemalans harvest their crops this year, and he allowed the public to continue to use the trails that were on his property — except for the people who were suing him. That led to a heated encounter this summer between Russell and Ledonne, who had been heading toward the Guatemalans' garden with his camera to shoot more footage.

"I was walking along the dike, and I saw through the corner of my eye this figure running through the trees," Ledonne recalls. "It was Dan Russell. He just started swearing at me."

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.

According to Ledonne, Russell called him a "little dickhead" and told him to "get the fuck off my property." He then called police to report a trespasser as Ledonne left, banished from the garden he'd been filming for years.

Russell declines to comment about his conversation with Ledonne or other Polston-related matters, citing the still-pending litigation. But he says he's confident that his resort will have a positive impact on his town: "Tourism is an important industry, and I think that Alamosa will benefit from the increase in tourism that this RV project offers."

Last month, both sides went to court over a preliminary-injunction motion filed by Keep Polston Public in an effort to halt the sale and development. No local judge would take the case because of perceived conflicts, so it fell to a visiting senior district judge, Scott Epstein, to sort things out.

Epstein seemed genuinely impressed, both by the "unquestionable merit" of a healthy living park and Russell's "visionary" effort to enhance tourism. He conceded that removing the topsoil would cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs' hopes for that property. And he scolded the school board for its "fairly shabby treatment" of the park supporters who'd been wooing them for two years, only to be dumped at the altar: "I think it could have been handled so much better, and perhaps without the drama that we now are faced with."

But shabby treatment didn't equate to illegal conduct. Epstein ruled that the plaintiffs hadn't met all the elements required to obtain a preliminary injunction. The board's executive sessions had been irregular, but the crucial vote had been done in public. He said he couldn't reverse the sale at this point and didn't think the plaintiffs would prevail if the case ever went to trial. He ordered the parties to mediation and lifted the temporary order that prevented Russell from removing topsoil or developing the land.

An unsigned editorial in the Valley Courier hailed Epstein's decision as "a victory for free enterprise." The writer lamented, "Unfortunately, sometimes the [San Luis Valley] could be defined as having a nonprofit mentality.... A region that thrives on nonprofits will soon suffer overall." That notion soon brought a flood of letters from park supporters, who said their project had been misunderstood.

"I see these two paradigms," says Karen Lemke, who works with the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition. "The old model is one big solution, this savior who comes and saves our community by generating all this tax revenue. Our proposal was, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a hundred people make $10,000 more in their family income?'"

The mediation has not yet been scheduled, but Russell has moved ahead with his annexation and land-swap plans, which have been received well by city officials. The project has the strong support of the downtown business community, many of whom signed letters published in the Valley Courier that carried over 300 names.

Ledonne was not one of those signers. "I would be sad to see the RV resort fail, but I also would be sad to see it succeed," he says. "Is it going to be filled all summer, so that every time I walk or bike along that area I'm going to see some Texan out there, shaving and waving at me? Or is it going to be a black concrete abandoned space? Neither one of those appeal to me."

The Keep Polston Public plaintiffs say they haven't decided yet whether to proceed with further discovery in the case; Oen says she's hopeful that mediation could at least lead to some of the topsoil being used in other gardens around town. Several are now focused on looking for other sites for a potential food-distribution center and maybe even a healthy living park.

After the rumpus over the Polston sale, three local landowners contacted the local-foods coalition to offer other possible sites. None had water rights or topsoil comparable to what was at Polston, but the offers led a few of the park supporters to believe that something good might come out of their battle after all.

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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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