Editorial: In Colorado, developers can take your property for their benefit — just ask Palizzi Farms

Estimated read time 4 min read

Debora Palizzi, the owner of Palizzi Farm in Adams County, is learning the hard way that almost any developer in Colorado can be granted the power of eminent domain by city or county officials.

Then, conflict of interests be damned, those developers can take land as they see fit for their own personal gain at great expense to others.

Palizzi is being dragged into court by developer Jack Hoagland because he wants to route an underground stormwater control system through a portion of her farm, and she refused to sell. She alleges in court documents that the developer has made no effort to minimize the harm that would come to her and her business and instead has selected the route for the stormwater infrastructure that would be least costly to him personally.

This is not only unjust and unethical, but given the structure of the metropolitan district that Hoagland owns and is the president of, we question the legality of this structure.

Members of the Brighton City Council approved a quasi-governmental district for Hoagland to own and manage. The metropolitan district has taxation authority and other powers reserved exclusively for governmental entities even though it is entirely owned and operated by a developer. These metro districts, when formed on undeveloped land, have no meaningful oversight because there are no voting residents other than the land owner. In this case, Hoagland and those he grants a seat on the board through faux elections can vote to tax future landowners or to condemn and take adjacent land. That is a glaring conflict of interest.

Developers like Hoagland are able to abuse the power of these districts because of a conflict of interest loophole that allows a board member to vote on matters that would otherwise be considered unethical as long as that vote is needed for a quorum. And well, on metro district boards, developers vote to put their colleagues, friends and family on the board so everyone has the same “conflict.” If everyone is conflicted, everyone can vote!

Coloradans would never stand for a member of a city council or a county commission voting to condemn land for their own private venture, so why do we tolerate developers doing the very same thing with their metropolitan districts?

Hoagland should be ashamed of this dirty deal, and we hope Brighton City Council members, those who granted Hoagland this authority see the error of their ways and revoke the power of condemnation and eminent domain.

We have little hope, however. Brighton City Council approved the metro district service plan in September, and according to the city’s spokeswoman, there are no regrets. Kristen Chernosky said that flood prevention mitigation in the area has been “planned as a necessary improvement for at least four decades.”

Chernosky misses the point that the public would have much more confidence that this was being done in an above-the-board fashion that was for the public benefit, instead of just in the way it will benefit a developer the most, if elected officials with no conflict of interest were overseeing the project.

Jose Gutierrez of Palizzi Farm, left, sells fresh vegetables at Cherry Creek Fresh Market on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)
Jose Gutierrez of Palizzi Farm, left, sells fresh vegetables at Cherry Creek Fresh Market on Wednesday, July 22, 2009. (Photo by Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post)

We know it can be expedient for local governments to pass off their responsibilities for infrastructure to developers, giving them taxing authority and eminent domain powers, but there are consequences for such actions.

In this case, the consequence of the actions of the Brighton City Council could be the permanent closure of Palizzi Farm, a beloved staple at local farmer’s markets that is one of the last remaining farms in an area rapidly developing.

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