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Big house court battle will go into mediation

By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole Daily
April 05, 2013

A man planning a large house close to Highway 22 near Skyline Ranch wants to mediate rather than fight in court.

Attorneys for Fintan Ryan — Jim Lubing and Leah Corrigan — have received permission from 9th Judicial District Court Judge Timothy Day to negotiate. They’re working to schedule a date for the two sides to meet with an independent mediator who will try to settle the battle over the house, widely condemned for its size and location in historically open land.

Although mediation is common in civil cases, the motion marks a new direction for the two sides. Teton County attorneys did not object to the request for mediation.

“We’d like to get this resolved,” Lubing said this week.

Mediation typically involves an independent attorney who shuttles back and forth and tries to find common ground in a dispute.

Even if the mediator can’t resolve a conflict in one session, the exercise often can bring parties closer to resolution.

The two sides are arguing about the elevation at which Ryan can start building his home. That height could determine whether he can build a 16,000-square-foot home on his property, which is protected by a conservation easement.

County regulations limit homes to 8,000 square feet of livable space. They do not, however, count basements against that cap.

Initial drawings of Ryan’s home show an 8,000-square-foot home with a basement that mirrors the top floor. To meet the county’s definition of a basement, at least half of the bottom level of Ryan’s home must be below grade.

Ryan, a physicist who lives in Henderson, Nev., and his attorneys say they have followed every regulation. They are fighting to build at an elevation they say was approved when county planners granted a grading permit, which allowed Ryan to build berms and wetlands on the property.

County planners say they couldn’t have approved the building height at that point because they would have needed to review plans for the entire building site. They’ve said OK’ing Ryan’s plan would set a bad precedent.

In October 2011, Ryan submitted plans to create berms and wetlands on his land. When digging started, neighbors started asking questions about the project. Family members of previous owners who donated a conservation easement on the property were up in arms over the work, which they said violated the intent of the easement. It was one of the first conservation easements in the region.

Representatives of the Nature Con­ser­vancy say the berms meet all the rules laid out in the easement, which is the only document binding them. They apologized for poor communication with the grantors of the easement, but said there was nothing else they could do.

Ryan bought the ranch in August 2010. 

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