Carbondale ‘island’ property deal postponed
Aspen, CO Colorado
CARBONDALE – Town trustees in Carbondale want more information before agreeing to sell a piece of Roaring Fork River island property to neighboring landowners as part of a settlement in an ongoing property line dispute.
The proposed settlement has been the result of lengthy negotiations between attorneys and several months worth of closed-door executive session meetings with the Carbondale Board of Trustees, town attorney Mark Hamilton explained at a Tuesday night meeting.
“We’re now in the public part of that process,” he explained, as several citizens, mostly avid river users and public lands advocates, packed the Town Hall meeting room to learn about and comment on the proposal.
The settlement was presented in the form of a proposed ordinance. It would serve to transfer the entire “island parcel” that was given to the town in 1981 by Paul and Rachel Krausch, to adjacent property owners Tom and Mary Beth Joiner and Michael Stahl for $100,000.
The deal would preserve public floating rights along the river, although users could not set foot on the property. The island property could also not be developed, and the town would reserve the right to access and service municipal water wells that are located in the area.
The Joiners and Stahl filed a lawsuit against the town in 2009, claiming the northeastern-most part of the island parcel was erroneously gifted to the town, and that it legally belongs to them. They’ve asked a judge to re-set the boundary in their favor.
Exactly where that line should be, and how much acreage the town actually owns, is also in question, Hamilton said.
The 1981 deed described the parcel as being situated “south of the present center line of the Roaring Fork River,” he said.
Maps indicate the roughly 26-acre parcel is defined by two separate islands situated south of the northernmost of two, and sometimes three channels, depending on river flows, that have historically run through that section.
It wasn’t until the residential lots were created in the 1990s by Garfield County between the river and Highway 82 that questions began to arise about property lines along the river, Hamilton said.
At that point, the center line of the river was identified in some survey maps as being in the channel between the two islands, rather than the one to the north, he said.
That, in essence, would render some of what the town thought it had owned as a “no man’s land” that could be subject to further legal challenges.
After several executive sessions with town trustees to discuss the pros and cons, and whether to proceed with the costly litigation, the board decided to negotiate a settlement that would unload all of the town-owned property.
Ultimately, that would save the town upwards of $50,000 in ongoing legal fees, according to Hamilton’s estimate.
And, it brings $100,000 into town coffers instead, noted Trustee John Foulkrod, who acknowledged he instigated the proposal.
That money could be put into developing the newly acquired “Gateway Park” property downstream where an existing boat ramp is located, which Foulkrod argued has greater public benefit than the remote island parcel.
Not all of the trustees agree that it’s a good idea to dispose of the parcel, which is a popular stopping-off point along the river for anglers, rafters and kayakers.
Public interest in the matter grew after Trustee John Hoffmann sent out an e-mail on Monday that was widely distributed to town residents, urging them to get involved.
“This land is currently only being accessed by the river, but it is a public gem in a three-mile strip of developed private properties along a river that is bristling with no trespassing signs,” Hoffmann noted in his e-mail.
Even if the town were to sell the land, it is potentially worth much more than is being proposed in the settlement, he said. And, state law should dictate that a public vote be required to sell the land in the first place.
Hamilton said an election is required only if the property in question has been “utilized for government purposes.” In the case of the island property, because it’s not developed, it hasn’t been used in that sense, he said.
“State law also says that other property can be disposed of by ordinance,” Hamilton said, adding that citizens can always petition to take the question to a vote if they so choose.
Several citizens who commented at Tuesday’s meeting opposed the settlement deal, and said the town should take its chances in court.
“It appears this property was donated as an open space parcel, and was accepted on behalf of the public for that reason,” said Dale Will, speaking as a Carbondale resident and not in his capacity as director of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails. “The town has an obligation to take care of it as an open space parcel.
“I’m also a kayaker,” he said, “and this stretch of river is typified by lots of [no] trespassing signs, so any place you can stop and get out of your boat are highly cherished.”
Crystal Valley resident and avid fisherman Franz Froelicher said the Colorado Division of Wildlife should also be contacted for its input.
“I wouldn’t let go of anything,” Froelicher said. “It’s a gem.”
Tom Joiner also attended the meeting. He said the point of the settlement is to clear up the title issue, which is preventing him and Stahl from selling lots that have development rights along Highway 82. The deal still preserves the river frontage and island parcel as open space, he said.
“This is a lot of money to pay for property that is not accessible, but we think it’s a fair price,” Joiner said. “If the sale doesn’t go through, the lawsuit will proceed.”
Trustees did not vote on the ordinance, and continued the public hearing until April 19.
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