Steamboat Springs The City Council gave the final planning approval for a 22-acre subdivision, but litigation between the applicant and adjacent property owners could continue.
After three hours of discussion, a motion to send the plan back to the City Planning Commission and another motion to table the plan, the council decided 5-2 to approve the preliminary plat for Overlook Preserve. The plan is for 15 single-family homes with the possibility of seven caretaker units south and east of Overlook Drive and north of Burgess Creek Road.
More than 60 surrounding neighbors and The Ranch at Steamboat homeowners objected to the plan, saying it extended into land they had been told was open space for more than 22 years.
"We feel that there were commitments made that define what can be done on this property," said Attorney Bob Weiss, who represented the opposition.
But council members said they were not about to rule on a civil matter.
"It is a tough situation and I understand how the neighbors feel," Councilman Paul Strong said. "But our duty here is to judge what can be done according to the development code."
When Council President Kathy Connell asked the applicants, Overlook Preserve Inc. and property owners if the plan could be tabled so the parties could meet again to come to a resolution, project architect Eric Smith said they have met and continue to disagree.
Representing the applicants, Attorney Tom Sharp said he is already expecting a lawsuit to follow the council's decision.
"I fully expect the opposition is going to file a lawsuit in any event and regardless of what you do," Sharp told the council.
John de Wardt, who lives on Glacier Road and heads the group of surrounding neighbors, said they are evaluating their options.
The opposition had filed a lawsuit before the plan went to the Planning Commission, but it was withdrawn two weeks after the board approved the plan 5-2. The lawsuit claimed the applicants had violated the planned unit development agreement and needed two-thirds of the Ranch owners to approve the change in the plan.
The proposed plan is Phase III of The Ranch at Steamboat development and changed from an original 1978 plan of 70 units in six separate buildings. That plan would have added to the already 88 condominium units, tennis courts and swimming pool at the Ranch.
Under the plan before the council, five of the 15 homes would extend entirely into land that had been designated as a permanent greenbelt and open space in a brochure handout to prospective homeowners.
Marie Arnold was among the neighbors who said those who sold them the property and are now developing Phase III had told them that land would be preserved as open space. Timothy Rastello, an attorney with Holland & Hart LLP, said the homeowners association at the Ranch had even approached the owners about buying the 22 acres to preserve as open space.
"This is one of the most objectionable cases of self-dealing and misrepresentation that I have encountered in 22 years (of law)," Rastello said.
But after the meeting, Marty Abel and Donna Mae Hoots, who worked for the Ranch's previous owner and then became partners in the Phase III development, said those allegations are not true.
Abel pointed to the same brochure, which has in print "site plan subject to modification." Abel said buyers knew the development would occur on Phase III, but nothing final was ever given.
The plan does retain its original designated open space and has added 1.5 acres of open space, which preserves 60 percent of the land.
Connell and Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner supported motions to send the plan back to the Planning Commission and to table the plan until Feb. 24, but both failed.
The two then voted against approving the plan.