by Brian Orr
GARDNER- There’s a saying in carpentry: “measure twice; cut once.” This would have been good advice to the land surveyors who platted out property in and around Gardner in the 1880s. If they had been accurate, a lot of headaches could have been avoided by Gardner’s modern residents.
There is a land dispute in the town of Gardner, and passions on both sides of the argument are reaching a fever pitch. The land in dispute is approximately 22 acres of so-called “no-man’s land”, which no one claimed or owned for a better part of the 20th century.
The people involved in the dispute are, on one side, Gary Lensky, also known as Baba, and his fellow kibbutzim, and on the other side are the adjacent property owners to the disputed land. Thrown into this mix is the Huerfano County government and law enforcement, which have been trying to sort this whole mess out.
Baba, who is an American citizen and a Cornell graduate, bought a house and approximately a half acre of property in Gardner in 1998, and rented the property out until 2000, when he himself moved onto the property. Baba started up a 501(c)3 religious organization, and leased the property, known as Camp D’ORvid at Casa Del Arroyo, to his organization. Over the next four years, religious aspirants, mostly from Israel, rotated in and out of the property, helping Baba establish his commune, and in the process planting hundreds of trees and building various outbuildings on the property.
Immediately adjacent to Baba’s property was the no-man’s land, used for everything from trash dumping to sand excavation from its large arroyo to a dirt bike race track.
Baba started asking around as to who owned the property, and no one knew. Eventually, after extensive research, he found the land was last owned by Agnes Quillian, who died in 1928, leaving no heirs. The land had been essentially abandoned since that time, and had fallen off the tax rolls.
Baba paid the back taxes on the property, and received a clear title to the land in 2002. The court order stating he owns the land is signed by Judge Claude Appel, has the Huerfano County seal affixed to it, and a copy resides in the treasurer’s office. A pretty straight-forward case of quieting the title on a piece of property.
But no, it’s not quite that simple. Baba’s neighbors also lay claim to parts of the land, and have done so for years. They have built yards on it, fenced it off, and contend that they have also paid taxes on their portions of the disputed property for years, and they are not taking it kindly that Baba now claims it all as his own, and is attempting to fence it off. “Any of these people could have and should have come forward with their rights when I was quieting the title,” Baba says of their complaints.
In 2004, an unexplained arson incident at Camp D’ORvid’s wood pile led Baba and his compatriots to decide to fence off their property as a matter of self protection.
“The sheriff refused to investigate the fire, even though there were tracks leading up to the woodpile and then away,” Baba said. Since that time, “Things started getting hot.” Baba spoke of having people pull guns on him, threatening him and his friends, vandalism on the property, including throwing beer bottles on his roof, breaking windows and people peeing on the walls of the prayer hall next to his house. Baba met with the county commissioners at the time, and he reported he was told by them- “You are the enemy, it is the county versus you.”
Baba maintains that since this time, there has been systematic effort on the part of the county government, the Road and Bridge department and the Sheriff’s office to intimidate him and his friends, with the intent of driving them out. ”This is virtually a conspiracy to deprive us of our rights- these are virtually hate crimes.”
“The sheriff has sent his officers out here four times in the past two years to tell us we don’t own this land and to get off,” Baba said.
Jumping forward to November, 2008, Lensky and his fellow kibbutzim attempted to fence off an alleyway that runs right next to their prayer hall, and is on the property Baba claims is his.
The alley, however, is also claimed by Huerfano County as a county road, which is exempt from any land foreclosure. The initial fence post put in place was pulled up on Nov. 14 by the County Road and Bridge crew. Baba had the post replanted, and this time, when the Road and Bridge crew went to pull it out, they took two Sheriff’s officers and County Commissioner Roger Cain with them. The resulting confrontation was caught on videotape by Baba, and will be posted on the Journal website.
The second part of this article will be in next week’s newspaper, where we will hear Sheriff Newman’s side of the matter.