Stagecoach land dispute settled

Owner's association spells out consolation guidelines

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— Stagecoach landowners can now legally consolidate lots into five acres but will have to adhere to conditions of the Stagecoach Property Owners Association, according to a court settlement between Brown Thompson, Ken Burgess and the homeowners group.

The settlement was filed on Monday and all the parties involved said they are happy with the outcome.

The lawsuit was filed on Oct. 7, 1999, when Brown Thompson sued Ken and Renata Burgess for consolidating two lots according to Routt County's guidelines for consolidation.

The county came up with the guidelines as a way for landowners in failed subdivisions to have an option to make use of their land. Stagecoach failed in the '70s, leaving owners of nearly 1,500 lots without roads and water utilities to their land.

The Burgesses purchased their first lot in Sky Hitch Subdivision in 1971 and the second in 1998.

"Frankly, we bought the second one because we liked the lot," Ken Burgess said.

Later, the couple found out the county would allow them to put a septic system in if they consolidated the two lots to make one five-acre lot.

Thompson, a Stagecoach property owner, filed a lawsuit claiming that consolidation was illegal because the county's plan conflicted with the bylaws of the Stagecoach Property Owners Association. He said he was concerned about a number of issues with consolidations in Stagecoach.

"The Burgesses are a unique case. They only had to buy one lot to get five acres," Thompson said.

If other people consolidated, they would have to accumulate more than two lots to come up with the mandatory five acres the county mandates in Stagecoach to allow a septic system. That would cause some problems with association revenues, which collects dues on a per-lot basis; if one person owns numerous lots, he has to pay dues on each lot.

Consolidating numerous lots into one large lot would reduce the amount of money the landowner would pay the SPOA for dues. If there is major development in Stagecoach someday, it would be the homeowners group that would be responsible to maintain trails and commons areas.

"That costs money," Brown said.

If lot consolidations become widespread in Stagecoach, where lots average just less than an acre each in size, Thompson said he believes the association could lose 90 percent of its revenues and its ability to perform its responsibilities.

Thompson also was concerned about the possibility of water and sanitation utilities being extended into areas that have consolidated lots with septic systems. Those property owners could resist infrastructure expansion, hurting chances of smaller lot owners in the area who are banking on infrastructure expansion to make their property feasible to build on.

"Those are the key issues," Thompson said.

After being sued by Thompson, the Burgesses filed a counterclaim against the association.

"We felt that they hadn't made it clear what was necessary for us to do this," Renata Burgess said. "They didn't have guidelines."

When the Burgesses contacted the association about the consolidation, Ken Burgess said the group had no response and that they were still trying to figure how to deal with the county's consolidation plan.

The association's attorney, Mike Holloran, said bringing the homeowners group into the legal mix actually was the key to the settlement.

"The association has been wrestling with these consolidations for a few years," Holloran said.

In July, during the association's annual meeting, members voted to set some guidelines for people who want to consolidate. They also voted not to recognize the county's plan.

The litigation with the Burgesses and Thompson enabled the association to present the guidelines as a compromise.

"What resulted was a settlement that is between all the parties," association member Chris Wittemeyer said.

The Burgesses and Thompson agreed to the guidelines, which requires lot owners to pay the same amount of dues as they did before consolidation, maintain all drainage and trail easements on the land, maintain the landowner's responsibilities outlined in the bylaws of the SPOA and commits them to join the water and sanitation district if infrastructure is expanded. Though Wittemeyer said he expects to see more five-acre consolidations now that a court order has allowed it, he doesn't think it will be an overwhelming amount of people.

As far as getting the case settled, the Burgesses said they are happy with the outcome.

"Probably the most important thing is having a process by which we can proceed," Ken Burgess said.

But having that come at their expense, delaying the construction of their home wasn't in their plan.

"I've never met a martyr smiling while they are going into it," he said. "We didn't enjoy being delayed."

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

or e-mail dcrowl@steamboatpilot.com

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