RFTA aims to quell revolt over Glenwood to Woody Creek corridor plan
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is preparing to launch an extensive public outreach program about its plan to control access to 33.4 miles of railroad corridor from Glenwood Springs to Woody Creek after it sparked considerable controversy over the past two weeks.
The popular Rio Grande Trail runs the length of the corridor. However, RFTA’s main concern with the access control plan is to preserve the corridor for future passenger or freight rail service. The process is known as rail banking, and it must be done to the letter of the law or RFTA could lose the corridor, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.
RFTA formally decided Tuesday to extend the public comment period on its access control plan until April 13. In addition, it will make presentations about the document to the Pitkin County commissioners on Feb. 17 and the Basalt Town Council on Feb. 24, according to Angela Kincade, RFTA’s assistant director of project management and facilities operations.
She said “three or four” public meetings in the upper, middle and lower Roaring Fork Valley — aimed at property owners along the corridor — also will be held in coming weeks, though dates weren’t scheduled yet Tuesday.
“I think there is some fundamental confusion” about the draft plan, Kincade said. RFTA is updating the plan, but not making any major changes from an earlier version, Blankenship said.
The plan is drawing scrutiny of different types in different parts of the valley. Elected officials in Garfield County and Glenwood Springs have stated in public meetings the plan appears to be an attempt to control land-use decisions by limiting new crossings and dictating how changes to existing crossings should be made, according to coverage by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. The plan also has the potential to increase the cost of some public-works projects in Glenwood Springs, according to Blankenship. That has concerned the city government.
In addition, Glenwood Springs residents who own property along the corridor also are concerned that enforcement will result in them losing property.
RFTA is updating a 2005 access plan that outlines terms of conditions for every business, homeowner, government and utility carrier that needs access across the corridor. There are 73 licenses for access, Kincade said. Longtime property owners have access agreements with Southern Pacific Transportation Co. RFTA or its predecessor have issued the licenses since the corridor was purchased for $8.5 million in 1997. Licenses are updated only when property changes hands.
Some landowners in the Aspen area share the concerns expressed by downvalley residents. David Swersky, a longtime homeowner along the corridor on Lower River Road between Woody Creek and Old Snowmass, said he is concerned how the plan will affect his ability to someday sell his property.
The wording of the draft plan says the license for access doesn’t automatically carry over to a buyer or “run with the property.”
“Am I personally worried about my access being shut down? Not really,” Swersky said.
But he is concerned that an attorney for a prospective buyer of property will see that provision that access doesn’t automatically transfer and advise a client that they potentially could lose access.
Kincade said RFTA cannot land-lock property owners and that the access control plan shouldn’t affect property sales. The agency has been educating real estate agents and title insurance companies that it will provide access licenses when properties change hands.
“We just provide a new license to the title companies and that becomes one of the closing documents,” she said.
Swersky expressed his concerns to RFTA officials and proposed a compromise. He wants a phrase added that says something such as “a new owner must apply for his own license, which approval shall not be arbitrarily withheld.” That would give him and other landowners peace of mind that property sales won’t be affected by the access issue.
Some landowners have raised questions if RFTA already lost ownership of a portion of the corridor and therefore cannot rail bank the rest. “I’m not interested in owning the land and affecting the trail in any way,” Swersky said.
RFTA’s board of directors will get briefed on the tumultuous turn of events surrounding the access control plan Thursday at its regular meeting in Carbondale Town Hall. The discussion is on the agenda for 10:20 a.m.
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