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Driveway fees face tough road

Allyn Harvey

A number of Snowmass Canyon residents are apparently ready to stand their ground against the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, even if it means losing access to their property and homes.”We held a neighborhood meeting last Tuesday, and the consensus was that no one is going to sign anything with RFRHA,” longtime canyon resident Judy Royer told the authority’s board of directors yesterday. “Will you close our driveways if we don’t?”The board didn’t answer that question, and whether the holding authority will close down access for rebellious property owners remains in question. But, according to Glenwood Springs attorney Bob Noone, it can close down anyone’s access across the railroad right-of-way from Glenwood to Aspen if they don’t sign a contract and agree to pay an annual fee.”The Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority stands in position as grantor of the licenses, and they can revoke them at any time,” said Noone, who is a holding authority attorney. “The bottom line is that private uses are terminable.”Royer has been leading the fight against the holding authority’s effort to raise the fees people pay to use the right-of-way for private or business purposes.Most users are people who run a driveway from a road or highway across the tracks to their homes, according to holding authority director Tom Newland, but there are some who encroach on the right-of-way with buildings, agriculture and storage. The fees haven’t been raised in decades, and in some cases, people cross the holding authority’s property without paying anything at all. Noone pointed out that in every case the use in question benefits just one or a few private property owners.Last month, Newland sent out a contract to the 100 or so users that outlines their relationship with the holding authority and sets new fees for everyone, including those who currently don’t pay at all. Driveways, the No. 1 use, would cost $300 a year, a figure derived by adding inflation to existing fees of $50 to $150.Royer, who doesn’t pay to cross the rail corridor, reacted with a sharply worded letter in which she vowed, “I will never pay you people one dime to drive in my own driveway.”Yesterday, she took her concerns to the holding authority’s board of directors at their monthly meeting in Carbondale, and she wasn’t alone. Hyrum Noyes, another long-term resident of Snowmass Canyon who doesn’t pay a crossing fee for his driveway, told the board members they had overstepped their mandate by instituting fees, especially in cases where the driveway preceded the existence of rail in the Roaring Fork Valley.”RFRHA only assumed the right to run rail. The first railroad here could not charge the original property owners,” he said.The railroad right-of-way, which starts in Glenwood Springs and ends in Aspen, has been owned by three different rail companies prior to the holding authority: Denver & Rio Grande, Union Pacific and Southern Pacific. The holding authority was formed in the late 1990s after seven local governments pitched in to purchase the corridor from Southern Pacific. The authority is made up of representatives from the participating jurisdictions – Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties and the cities of Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass Village.Over the years, property owners who use the right-of-way have signed contracts with whomever owned the land at the time the use was initiated. Newland noted that making everyone pay $300 per year for driveway crossings is much more equitable than the current situation where some pay a little, some pay a lot and some pay nothing at all. If the fees that have been proposed are eventually collected, the holding authority expects to net about $40,000 per year, about a third of the annual maintenance budget.”In 20 years, I’ve never seen any maintenance,” Royer said. “Pitkin County comes and sprays the weeds now and then, but we plow our own driveways, so I’m not sure what [Newland] means.”Newland said maintenance includes weed control and upkeep of the property where it intersects with private uses, including ditches, utility poles and driveways.The board did not take any action on the contracts yesterday, putting off the discussion until November or December.Nor did it make any decisions about contract changes proposed by Newland. Those changes would include removing language that would give the holding authority the ability to raise rent with 30 days notice in any amount it deems appropriate, and revising a clause that could be interpreted to give the holding authority veto power over the sale of property. Newland also recommended allowing people who share a driveway to share the crossing costs, and creating a license that allows utility companies and government agencies to have multiple crossings.The board members weren’t prepared to answer Royer’s question about the driveways being shut down, though they did assure her and Noyes that the holding authority had no intention of denying people access to their property.”RFRHA has proven its willingness to work with its neighbors and the governments in the valley,” said Eagle County representative George Roussos. “We’ll work toward an equitable policy for everyone.”


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