West Acres lawsuit against Steamboat likely headed for trial | SteamboatToday.com

West Acres lawsuit against Steamboat likely headed for trial

Colorado Supreme Court declines to take up city's appeal

— The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to take up the city of Steamboat Springs' appeal of a lower court ruling affirming a local contractor's standing and, by extension, that of homeowners in West Acres Mobile Home Park, to sue for damages over condemnation of a greenbelt.

The ruling opens a path for the case to be heard locally, but a trial in district court still could be six to 12 months away, city staff attorney Dan Foote said Wednesday.

The high court's refusal late Tuesday pertained to a suit filed by Steamboat Springs excavating contractor C.D. Johnson, claiming he had a financial stake in the loss of a city-owned greenbelt that was adjacent to his equipment yard and was eliminated to make way for the construction of the now-completed Gloria Gossard Parkway on the city's west side.

A district court judge ruled against Johnson's claim that he was eligible for damages, but the Colorado Court of Appeals reversed that ruling.

"We argued that he had no economic connection to the greenbelt," Foote said.

Lawyer Vance Halvorson, who represents Johnson, said his case asserts that the city is subject to the restrictive covenants underlying greenbelts in the same way private property owners are. He pointed out that the requirement of a greenbelt by local government results in the original developer building the value of that land into his cost structure, hence the purchaser, in this case Johnson, essentially pays for it.

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Halvorson said similar arguments could apply to open space throughout Steamboat Springs.

"This is a bigger issue than just West Acres," he said.

The city already has compensated Johnson for the condemnation of a sliver of land on the front of his equipment yard on Downhill Drive.

Halvorson and another local lawyer, John Grassby, represent the mobile-home owners.

The homeowners won the right to attach their claims to the Johnson suit in separate court hearings. They are making similar claims to Johnson's about the value the greenbelt added to their homes.

Grassby told the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2010 that he was seeking $400,000 plus interest to compensate the owners of the 92 homes at West Acres.

One difference in their case is that the mobile-home owners do not own the lots beneath their homes. The city already has compensated the owner of the mobile-home park for the loss of the greenbelt.

Foote, who has been working on legal issues connected to the Gossard Parkway for six years, said a district court judge asked the city and the mobile-home owners to submit to mediation in 2009. But because Johnson would not negotiate a settlement independently of the homeowners, and their claims were so new then that Foote had not had time to evaluate them, little progress was made.

"I doubt the court would ask us to do that again," Foote said.

Halvorson agreed and said he expects that the judge trying the case would want jurors to be able to walk the grounds when they aren't covered with snow, meaning if the trial does not happen in fall, it would probably be carried into 2012.

Gloria Gossard Parkway, intended to become an arterial road leading to future housing subdivisions, was completed in late fall 2010 but is closed to traffic. Plans for the subdivisions have been sidetracked, and the road is a dead end.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

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