Steamboat Springs City Council members said they would hire an out-of-town mediator to help resolve a dispute among neighbors in the Fairview Subdivision.
For almost two hours Tuesday, the council heard neighbors argue about whether lots the city sold to residents in the early 1990s should allow buildings.
Noreen Moore, who was on the negotiation team that worked to annex the neighborhood into the city, said part of the annexation agreement was that the city would sell some of its lots to the neighbors. Moore said the intent was to keep the lots, which sold for $1,000 a piece, as open space. The sale was more of a transfer of stewardship, Moore said.
"We felt we made a deal with your predecessors, and we feel very strongly that agreement should be upheld," Moore said.
When Moore asked Fairview residents to stand if they wanted the city to stick to that deal, about 20 people did so.
Neighbors who bought their property from the original purchasers of the city lots said they paid fair market value for the land and found no documents stating that building was restricted.
Marjorie Wilcox said that she and her husband, Ben, bought a small, funky house and a lot for $460,000. They intended to build their dream house and then rent out the smaller home. If the city does not allow building, Wilcox said they would have paid too much for their property.
Attorney Bob Weiss, who represented some of the 11 property owners who bought city lots, said that there is no documentation that indicates building is prohibited on the lots.
"You've got deed restrictions and annexations. Nothing in any of these documents prohibits the construction of building on these properties. Period," Weiss said.
The deed restrictions on the lots stipulate that the owners cannot subdivide the land. That restriction is substantial, Weiss said.
In a 7-0 vote, the council directed city staff to hire a mediator, who should not be from Steamboat. The council also agreed that it would hold two special meetings to extend the moratorium to prevent building on those lots as the city works to resolve the issue.
The moratorium the council set into place in April expires July 25. Without the special meetings, the council could not legally extend the moratorium.
On a suggestion from neighbor John Spezia, Councilman Ken Brenner said mediation is the best solution and that there is a need for a little concession on each side. Councilwoman Kathy Connell said the city has hired outside mediators to help settle neighborly disputes in the past.
"The lesson I have learned, when people cannot agree in neighborhoods, they always come to the city and say fix it. We try to fix it, and part or all of them are mad at the city," Connell said.
Loui Antonucci said he was on the council when the original annexation agreement was approved and the lots were sold. Part of the confusion, Antonucci said, could be that at the time of annexation, zoning on the land did not allow for secondary buildings.
"My guess is because the zoning was the way it was, we felt like we didn't have to define that," he said.
Paula Cooper Black, a councilwoman at the time of the agreement, urged the council to follow the intention of previous boards. She said that the council at that time had many serious discussions about annexing the property and selling the lots. Many of those discussions were held during work sessions and were not recorded, she said.
The city had to work with Fairview residences to annex the neighborhood and other areas west of Steamboat into the city. Part of the agreement was to sell land to raise money for improvements, but to have that land remain undeveloped, she said.
"It is your responsibility and your obligation to make sure you carry on with good faith the (previous) City Council's decision and what our intent was," Cooper Black said. "I urge you to uphold the original intent and keep this agreement intact."
The city was presented with an ordinance that proposed rezoning the lots to open space and recreational use, which would allow for accessory structures as a use by right and employee units as a conditional use.
The ordinance, to which both parties did not agree, was tabled.