The Cochise County Board of Supervisors has reached a settlement agreement in a litigation case that could have cost local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The County will receive a $10,000 payment from Easter Mountain Ranch, L.L.C., a developer that was previously seeking nearly $10 million in damages, plus attorney fees and costs.
Easter Mountain Ranch alleged the Board of Supervisors, in July 2015, wrongfully denied its tentative subdivision plat for a proposed residential development near the Whetstone Mountains.
The Board denied the plat because of the developer’s failure to comply with a condition of rezoning, which Easter Mountain Ranch had previously accepted, that would have required an easement for vehicular and pedestrian access to public lands in the Whetstone Mountains.
Following negotiations between the two parties, Easter Mountain Ranch has agreed to dismiss all claims against the County with prejudice. The County has agreed to remove the access easement condition from subdivision plans re-submitted by the developer. The County has since negotiated with another land owner, El Dorado Benson LLC, to purchase an easement permitting public access to the Coronado National Forest in the Whetstone Mountains, at a cost of just $10.
In addition, an independent plan reviewer will review the final plat and improvement plans submitted by Easter Mountain Ranch for the first phase of the proposed housing development, and will make any recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. The Board has agreed to approve those plans, as long as they comply with County planning and zoning conditions and other applicable requirements. The costs associated with hiring an independent plan reviewer will be shared equally by the County and Easter Mountain Ranch.
Each party will pay their own attorney fees and costs – the Cochise County Attorney’s civil division handled the County’s defense.
Easter Mountain Ranch will pay the County $10,000 within 10 days of the Board considering its final plat. The payment will be used to offset costs incurred by the County in securing public access to the Whetstone Mountains.
“This settlement will save local taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars the County would have incurred through legal costs if this lawsuit had proceeded,” said Ann English, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This is a good outcome for the County, for local residents, and for the future development of the region.”
The settlement was approved by the Board of Supervisors in a 2-1 majority vote during a special meeting following and executive session on Tuesday. District 3 Supervisor Peggy Judd voted against the agreement.