Utility debate in Stagecoach

Confusion over consolidation of lots keeps property owners from building homes

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— Douglas Hirning just wants to build a house.

He bought land in the Stagecoach subdivision five years ago. But the land was among more than 1,400 lots that have been waiting for utilities since the 1970s when the Woodmoor Corp. filed for bankruptcy and left the lots without sewer or water.

For Hirning, his options were to improve the 3/4-mile stretch of road so a vault sewer system could be used or piece lots together to gather the five acres needed to meet the county's requirements for a septic system.

Consolidating the five-acre piece of land cost much less and meant Hirning could move forward with the plans to build his house.

But in order to consolidate, Hirning has to get approval from three different entities Routt County, Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District and the Stagecoach Property Owners Association. The last Stagecoach lot owner to consolidate was Ken Burgess and he faced a lawsuit.

"The process has been frustrating," Hirning said. "There are three different entities and they don't agree on how it should be done.

"I feel like I am caught in the middle."

On Thursday, the Routt County Planning Commission unanimously approved consolidating the lots and taking away the easements along lot lines claimed by the Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District.

But Greg Hermann, president of the Morrison Creek District, said the planning commission overstepped its authority by approving to vacate easements the county does not own and if Hirning files the plat at the county he will be in violation of his agreement with the district.

Hermann said legal action could follow.

Hirning's neighboring lot owners are watching closely.

Consolidation is an issue dividing the more than 2,000 members of the SPAO. Also a board member of SPOA, Hermann said at the board's July 20 meeting votes were split between those who own one or two lots and are against consolidation and those that own four or five lots and would like to consolidate.

"It is very divided," Hermann said.

"Nobody wants to block consolidation per say. What people are saying is don't let them consolidate lots in those areas where extending utilities could be blocked."

In 2000, the county approved a plan that allowed lot owners to build a septic system and leech field if they could gather up a five-acre piece of land for consolidation.

It seemed like a good idea for some property owners, who had been waiting close to 30 years for utilities and could not build until they came.

The cost of putting in utilities for a lot could run up to $20,000, county Planner Chad Phillips said, with road improvements and water and sewer lines.

The problem with putting in water and sewer lines, Phillips said, is that everyone has to agree and come up with money to do it.

Phillips believes 18 to 20 property owners have gathered up the five-acre lots needed to consolidate, but ever since a lawsuit was filed over Burgess' consolidation they have been waiting.

Without the chance of connecting to nearby sewer lines, Hirning said, people aren't lining up behind him.

"I don't know of any plans in place or the funds for (connecting to the system)," Hirning said. "The people who want to live out there look for other options."

Phillips said Steamboat Lake also has a similar scenario where lot owners can gather up five acres to put in a septic tank. In that area, more than 40 lots have been consolidated.

Only three lots have been consolidated in Stagecoach.

Burgess was the last lot owner to ask the county to consolidate. The county approved, but a lawsuit was filed and later resolved out of court.

Hermann said legal action could come in Hirning's request as well.

His first complaint is that Hirning did not take his request to consolidate to the SPOA first. His second one is that by asking utility easements to be vacated along the existing lot lines, Hermann believes the rest of the subdivision could be in a bind when water and sewer lines do go in and can't pass through Hirning's property. What Hermann would like to see is a blanket easement for water and sewer lines for the entire consolidated lot outside a building envelope. But Hirning said a blanket easement is a big risk for a property owner.

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