Colorado landowners are in a losing battle with the county over their land, which local government is claiming for itself under the law of eminent domain.
Colorado's Summit County is aggressively targeting the land of Andy and Barrie because it wants the open space—not for any public works project like a road, Fox News reports.
"They're spending us to death," said landowner Andy Barrie of the legal battle.
Andy and his wife Ceil bought two pieces of land two years ago, one in a subdivision where they live, and another at a higher elevation. The one up the mountain is only accessible by a small mining road and is a popular hiking spot for its natural isolation.
"Everyone has their special place where they really like to go, and when we came up here the first time we said this is our heaven, this is a special place," Andy said.
The peace was broken when U.S. Forest Service officials brought a complaint against the Barries for using a utility vehicle to get up to the cabin. The Barries responded by saying they hadn’t gone off the road in the vehicle, and asked that the path be declared a county road.
Then the county got in on it, asking to buy the land to preserve it as open space.
When the Barries refused, Summit County voted to condemn the property for wiring and plumbing (though the cabin lacks both) since the previous owner had remodeled it without permits—something the Barries didn’t know.
The county then filed for eminent domain.
"Both parties engaged in productive negotiations in pursuit of a voluntary settlement regarding the purchase. ... We are optimistic that a resolution will be reached within a matter of weeks, if not days,” Summit County said in a statement at a formal meditation last week.
But after spending $75,000 on legal fees to date, the Barries are doubtful.
"No, they're taking it,” Andy Barrie said in response to the statement.
"They collude together to basically screw up their citizens. ... Sooner or later, we're going to run out of money, but we wanted to fight the good fight and let people know our story and what their government is up to," Andy Barrie said.
While the county argues that it’s in citizens’ interest to preserve the land, the case is an unusual exercise of a local government’s powers of eminent domain.
'”It's not that you can't do it, but they don't do it much," said Dana Berliner, who was co-counsel in the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case upholding the constitutionality of eminent domain. "There's typically other ways of doing open space than just taking land.”
Meanwhile the Barries are losing all hope that they will keep their beloved property with its mountain views.
"I even promised my daughter she could get married up here, and now all that's gone," Andy Barrie said.