Land access granted in Elk River Valley

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A district judge ruled Thursday to grant owners of 850 acres north of Steamboat Springs access to their land.

The property, owned by Robert Ellsworth, James Borglum and Charles Sahli, is about 11 miles from Steamboat, near Elk River Road. It is 2.5 miles from the nearest county road, and several properties must be crossed to access it.

Negotiations, which began in 1996, have failed to give the owners the access they need, so they filed to condemn their way into the property. Fourteenth Judicial District Judge Mary Lynne James gave that access Thursday.

The owners of the landlocked property brought the suit against Chad and Travis Bedell, David Papini and Dean Chew, as well as several other landowners who had not already granted access.

Under current zoning, petitioners Ellsworth, Borglum and Sahli could build 24 homes on the site, according to a brief filed with the court Monday.

"But they only want to use the land for four residential envelopes within a conservation easement," the brief said.

After offers to buy access in 2002 were unsuccessful, the owners asked the Routt County District Court in March to hold a hearing to give them immediate possession. In that motion, the petitioners listed relief claims that could be paid to each property owner providing access, with the largest claim being about $14,500.

Typically in conficts involving land access, private owners worry that the access could disrupt their land and lifestyle or result in other losses.

When court proceedings began Wednesday, the petitioners' lawyer announced that an agreement had been reached with several property owners.

Steamboat attorney Mike Holloran, representing landowners Peter and Mary Kurtz and Frank Hanks, then asked the judge to give the groups a few more hours to see if they could come to an agreement.

"I'm not sure the parties, from what I'm hearing, are that far apart," Holloran said.

"These parties are going to be neighbors for many years after this," he continued, saying that it would be best for them to work the issue out on their own.

The judge agreed to the request, saying that she was in favor of settlements.

When the groups returned to court Thursday, they had reached an agreement on all immediate possession issues and gave proposed orders to the judge, which she signed, according to court files.

Each order stated that the land in question was in need by the petitioners and gave immediate possession to the petitioners.

The motion for immediate possession against the Kurtz property was withdrawn.

The parties will have a phone status review Dec. 22 to see if a January trial to value the access that was granted is necessary.

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