Pitco, landowners at impasse over easement to open space | AspenTimes.com

Pitco, landowners at impasse over easement to open space

Pitkin County’s plan to build a one-mile trail to a 185-acre parcel it acquired along the Crystal River has sparked a broader battle with some residents of a small subdivision north of Redstone.

While exploring ways to provide access to the new gem in the open space program, the government’s plan became more grandiose. The planning staff got involved in the issue and determined that residents of the old Wild Rose Ranch had to widen and improve the driveway they have gotten by with for years.

The dispute has landed in court and has ground to an impasse.

For the county, the battle could theoretically leave the Filoha Meadows and neighboring Hot Springs Ranch landlocked and inaccessible after it paid $2.6 million from its open space fund to acquire the properties over the last two years.

For the residents of the Wild Rose subdivision, located between Redstone and the open space parcels, the battle threatens to end with an unwanted trail snaking through their front or back yards and costly road improvements they don’t think they need.

Despite the pending litigation, the county commissioners and residents of the subdivision are taking the unusual step of meeting in public Wednesday to try to break an impasse in negotiations.

The county commissioners and open space board are meeting in a closed session with their attorney at noon Wednesday to discuss the matter.

They plan to meet with the Wild Rose subdivision residents at 1 p.m.

Important open space purchases

The county acquired the 135-acre Hot Springs Ranch in 2002. It closed on 50 acres in the adjacent Filoha Meadows last February. The property provides some of the most spectacular scenery in the Crystal River Valley. Disney used part of the property to film its “Tall Tale” movie in 1994. The land is critical winter range for bighorn sheep and elk.

Dale Will, executive director of the Pitkin County Trails and Open Space Program, said a management plan being prepared for the property must consider whether it should remain off-limits to humans during winters.

For summer use, the county wants to build a one-mile trail to the property from the paved road at the north entrance to Redstone. The trail couldn’t be opened until spring 2006 due to an agreement with the family that sold some of the land, Will said.

Will said the county relied on a plat recorded in 1982 for assurance that a trail could be built to the property.

The plat includes a trail easement dedication which reads, “There shall be reserved for future dedication a trail easement along the Old Crystal River Railroad right-of-way. Such dedication shall be made, without consideration, when and if requested by the Board of County Commissioners. Such dedication shall be limited to use of the right-of-way for trail purposes including pedestrian, equestrian, bicycle, cross-country skiing, and similar uses but excluding motor vehicles.”

Landowner objects

The old railroad right of way also serves as the driveway into seven homes developed at the old Wild Rose Ranch and to undeveloped lots. The roadway is known as Dorias Lane.

The whole one-mile stretch of the old railroad right of way is owned by two people in the Wild Rose subdivision, Nicholas Ziegler and Ronna Moore Good, according to county research.

Ziegler challenged the provisions of the plan and refused to convey an easement to the county. Dorias Lane has been posted with “no trespassing” signs.

The county filed a lawsuit in April 2003 against Ziegler and Good to try to get the public access rights acknowledged. Will said the litigation has been “put on hold” while the county and landowners engaged in negotiations.

Ziegler couldn’t be reached for comment. A telephone number listed in information has been disconnected.

Bob Noone, an attorney for Good, didn’t return a telephone message seeking comment.

Will said Ziegler wanted to be paid for land that the trail would cross, even though the county believes the plat clearly reserves a trail easement.

“Why should we buy something when we already own it?” he asked.

Issues expand

But the trail might not be the root of the problem. Once the county started looking into the trail issue, the planning staff got involved and determined that the driveway didn’t meet its standards.

The county claims the easement that is to be conveyed is 100 feet wide. The wording in the plat trail easement dedication doesn’t specify a width. The plat drawing shows that the old railroad right of way is 100 feet wide.

Will said that in negotiations the county has agreed to settle for a 45-foot-wide easement, which would include an improved access road to the subdivision and a separate trail.

Residents contend the county wants to pave too much of their piece of paradise. Will said there is a misperception that the entire 45-foot width would be paved.

County driveway standards require a 20-foot-wide roadway. A trail easement is typically 15 feet wide but the widest trail the county has ever built is 10 feet wide, and most are narrower, Will said.

Wednesday’s meeting has been scheduled at the landowners’ request. There have been indications they would settle the dispute if an 8-foot easement was granted strictly for pedestrian trail use.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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