Chapman has already built one home in the park, a one-story 4,750-square-foot luxury home overlooking the canyon, complete with its own helicopter. But the structure is unobtrusive and not readily visible to park visitors.
The new larger home, called Casa Barranca II, will be built on Signal Hill, Chapman said, the highest point in the park, which promises to dominate the landscape.
Chapman’s website, blackcanyoncasa.com, uses the location as Casa Barranca II’s selling point. It states, in part, “It will be positioned high astride Signal Hill, the highest point in the park – dominating over the entire 30,000 acre Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.”
Chapman specializes in acquiring inholdings – private lands surrounded by public lands – and has been successful at forcing public land managers to either buy him out at higher prices or trade with him for other inholdings, from which he has made considerable profit.
As one example, in the early 1990s Chapman started construction on a luxury log cabin in the West Elk Wilderness near Paonia. He originally purchased the 240-acre parcel for $960,000. He stopped construction of the cabin after negotiating a land trade with the Forest Service for 105 acres near Telluride. He later sold that property for more than $4 million.
Chapman’s recent purchase of mining claims in Telluride’s Upper Bear Creek Basin has drawn concerns there again. A press release from his Gold Hill Development Company states: “GHDC has full cause to exclude all parties from its private lands for reasons of liability for injury and/or accidental death.” A popular destination for backcountry skiers and hikers, Bear Creek’s access is vital. (See "Developer’s Intention for Bear Creek Claims Unknown” at watchnewspapers.com.)
Chapman’s dealings over the years have earned him notoriety, with the Denver Post referring to him as “the buzzard of Colorado’s backcountry” and The Economist calling him “a modern hustler of the west.”
Park officials are concerned about Chapman’s plans to build a hilltop mansion that dominates Black Canyon National Park, says Curecanti National Recreation Area Management Assistant Dave Roberts, but there’s not much they can do about it.
“I would think it would be a blight and very noticeable to visitors, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Roberts said, adding that he wishes Montrose County would take a stronger stand about development on private land within the national park.
“I’m disappointed the county has not installed stricter land use regulations within the park, since any private land is developed under county standards,” he said.
According to Montrose County Planning Director Steve White, the county hopes to adopt its new Master Plan next week, but it only calls for setting up 35-acre minimum parcels on private land within the park and would not affect plans for Chapman’s 25,000-square-foot house.
“At this point we have not contemplated any specific regulations; it hasn’t been talked about in any kind of detail,” White said.
Reid Haughey, president of the Wilderness Land Trust, said Chapman has been very successful in manipulating public land stewards.
“He’s made quite a career out of acquiring these inholdings and then putting pressure on public agencies to buy them under stressed circumstances, and it speaks to the need for a federal land acquisition program, not to create new areas but to complete the protection that everyone has agreed on,” he said.
But Chapman said he’s just doing business, and that in most cases, he was the broker, not the owner, or at most a minority owner in the majority of the land deals.
"I'm a private property advocate and a capitalist, for which I would never apologize,” Chapman said. “My job is to represent landowners whose Fifth Amendment private property rights have been abused by vote-seeking politicians, over-zealous regulators, and an environmental community that consistently shows little to no respect for private property rights."
The “bad press” he’s received over his dealings also doesn’t bother Chapman.
“John Wooden once said people should be more concerned about character than reputation,” he said. “That’s merely what somebody thinks you are.”