Cozy Point Ranch operator gets a new 10-year lease from Aspen City Council |

Cozy Point Ranch operator gets a new 10-year lease from Aspen City Council

ASPEN, Colorado – The operator of Cozy Point Ranch will have to prove every year to city officials that he is running a safe and responsible equestrian and agricultural facility, per a 10-year lease approved Monday by the Aspen City Council.

The council voted unanimously to grant Monroe Summers, general manager of Cozy Point Ranch LLC, a lease to operate a portion of the city-owned 169-acre property at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82.

But unlike the lease Summers has had with the city since 2000, there are new provisions that provide benchmarks for performance in customer service, safety, equine facility maintenance and environmental stewardship.

The annual audit is in response to criticisms made by a group of equestrians who earlier this year were competing against Summers for the lease.

Red Barn LLC, whose principals are H2J Riding Camp owner Judy Hill Nelson and her business partner, Melissa Wight, fought vigorously to take over the lease. Both women maintained for months that Summers and his employees have mismanaged the property by allowing unsafe conditions at the ranch. They also claimed Summers has ignored stated land stewardship practices on the dedicated open space.

Their claims were enough to raise questions for elected officials. The council in June voted 4-0 to select Summers’ operation with conditions added in the lease.

One of them is conducting an annual survey of Cozy Point’s sub-tenants – like those who board horses there – to gauge the level of satisfaction they have with Summers’ employees. Also included in the performance review is how the dispute resolution process is working between ranch management and those who use the facility, and how users feel about the general condition of the ranch and the services that are provided.

That provision is likely in response to Red Barn’s accusation that Summers had a gag clause in tenants’ subleases that banned them from publicly complaining about the conditions or services on the ranch.

Summers has maintained that the stipulation in the agreements were designed to settle any differences with the ranch’s management in house.

Another new provision in the lease is that the city will hire an equine specialist who will provide an annual inspection and assessment of the facility.

“The specialist will certify that the operations are meeting the standard of professionalism and safety as it relates to the overall equine operations,” according to a memo from Parks and Open Space Director Stephen Ellsperman. “The specialist will inspect and report on the footing, fencing, safety and any other items that may be deficient regarding the operations or general maintenance of the facility.”

The lease also requires Summers to meet annually with the Aspen Valley Land Trust and Roaring Fork Conservancy to craft an inventory and action plan of sustainable agricultural practices, and environmental stewardship.

If Summers doesn’t comply with any of the performance measures, he will be put on probation for one year and will be required to cure any deficiencies.

Another substantive change in the lease is how much Cozy Point Ranch LLC will pay the city in rent. The current lease requires Summers to pay 5 percent of annual gross receipts up to $500,000 and 7.5 percent of annual gross receipts of more than $500,000.

The new lease, which will commence on April 15, 2010, requires 7.5 percent of annual gross receipts up to $500,000 and 10 percent of more than $500,000.

The council was swayed in June by an overwhelming number of supporters who spoke on Summers’ behalf. The council said Summers’ proposal was more in step with the city’s goal to keep the property a working ranch while also honoring the area’s agricultural heritage.

Summers had received approval for a new lease in September 2007, but it wasn’t until last fall that he was scheduled to meet with the council to formally extend the lease. That process was put on hold, and the city earlier this spring conducted a request for proposals. Red Barn, Cozy Point LLC and one outside operator submitted proposals.

A nine-member task force was convened to review the proposals and make a recommendation to the council. It voted 7-2 to recommend Cozy Point Ranch LLC because Summers adequately proved his expertise and ability to manage and direct the property’s stewardship, based on documentation and abundant local references.

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