Steamboat Springs Nine tenants of a duplex on Walton Creek Road face eviction because of a rarely enforced city zoning law.
The law states that no more than three unrelated adults can live in a single-family residence, such as a house or duplex unit. Steamboat Springs staff attorney Dan Foote said that in a multi-family residence, such as a townhome or a condominium, city zoning laws allow for as many as five unrelated adults to live together. Different parts of the city are zoned for single-family or multi-family residences, Foote said.
In a resort community that lures large numbers of seasonal workers and young adults, shared living spaces are as easy to find as fresh powder in January. Traditionally, city officials do not go out of their way to enforce occupancy violations.
But a series of noise complaints and disputes with neighbors at 2075 Walton Creek Road drew attention to the large log house near the intersection with AprÃs Ski Way. City officials investigated and found that five unrelated men live in the upstairs unit of the duplex, and two unmarried couples live in the downstairs unit. The house is on a plot zoned for single-family residency.
Landlord Scott Wedel said that early in July, he received a letter from city planner Dave Gardner giving him until Sept. 4 to evict his tenants or face daily fines.
"It's a relatively common living situation, and yet (enforcement) happens about as often as a murder in Steamboat," said Wedel, of Shady Curry Holdings LLC on Caribou Lane.
Enforcement occurs slightly more often than Wedel's estimation - while a murder hasn't occurred in Steamboat since 2000, city officials enforced the occupancy zoning law in 2005.
"The last one that we had to deal with was about a year and a half ago in the Meadow Lane area, but that case has been resolved," Foote said. "There are no other current issues with occupancy - Wedel is the only one I am aware of right now."
Noise complaints from neighbors and a "focus on the behavior of the occupants" drew city officials to the Meadow Lane residence in 2005, Foote said.
That piece of history is repeating itself at 2075 Walton Creek Road.
Neighbors fed up
Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director J.D. Hays said eight noise complaints regarding 2075 Walton Creek have been made since Jan. 1, 2005. Five of those complaints occurred this year - May 7, May 25, May 30, June 7 and June 18.
One neighbor said loud noise and out-of-control parties have been common in the neighborhood for years.
Cathy Arentz lives at 2940 Columbine Drive, not far from the intersection of Walton Creek Road and AprÃs Ski Way.
"They've just run amok," Arentz said of current and previous tenants at 2075 Walton Creek, 2077 Walton Creek and a nearby residence on Aspres Ski Way. "It has gotten to the point where our neighbors are afraid of these people."
Arentz said a mediation meeting was held with the tenants, neighbors and Steamboat Springs Police officers earlier this year, but when the noise continued, neighbors took further action.
"We banded together as a group of people and went to the City Council," Arentz said.
Another neighbor may have gone further.
Mark Schiebel also lives on Columbine Drive. On April 24, Steamboat police arrested Schiebel on suspicion of misdemeanor charges of cruelty to an animal and harassment, along with suspicion of a petty offense charge for disorderly conduct. Hays said Schiebel allegedly kicked a dog owned by a 2075 Walton Creek tenant, during a verbal dispute at the house.
Schiebel said the dog attacked him, and that he is pleading not guilty to all the charges. His jury trial begins Friday in Routt County Court. Because of the pending trial, Schiebel declined to discuss the situation further.
Julie Broussard lives in the downstairs unit at 2075 Walton Creek with her boyfriend, Scott Smith, and another unmarried couple. All four tenants work in Steamboat, for employers including local restaurants and Yampa Valley Medical Center. Broussard said she and Smith moved into the unit about a year ago, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their New Orleans neighborhood.
In a letter to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Broussard said the actions of previous tenants and neighbors are casting her and her roommates in a falsely negative light.
"I think we are being held responsible for things our neighbors did, like having loud parties all the time," Broussard wrote. "We moved here because I thought this small community would be a great place to start my life over : how are young people supposed to be able to live here if you can't have more than three people living together?"
At Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, the four downstairs tenants and Wedel pleaded their case to council members and asked that the code not be enforced, at least until the council could review the city zoning law.
"As soon as we got here, we got jobs," Smith told the council, wearing a hat representing the New Orleans Saints football team. "The parties and all the dogs and noise was the neighbors to the left of us, and they're gone. Please, don't make us move."
Council President Ken Brenner said the enforcement will remain in place. Brenner directed city staff to prepare a memo outlining details of the zoning law, for council discussion Tuesday.
Wedel said given that decision, he had no choice but to give his tenants 30 days notice, rather than wait until after Tuesday's discussion to tell his tenants whether they need to be out by September.
Smith said he does not have savings to afford the security deposit and last month's rent required at a new residence. He left the meeting incredulous.
"I couldn't believe (Brenner) said to push it onto a memo," Smith said. "This is our life."
A tenant in the upstairs unit at 2075 declined to give his name or be interviewed Friday. At least four dogs were in the house's yard Friday. Beer-bottle caps were scattered around a barbecue pit.
Council member Steve Ivancie said he is familiar with the living situation at 2075 Walton Creek.
"I once lived in a situation similar to that," Ivancie said. "There were four of us who were unrelated, living in a big house. We were just trying to find a place to live cheaply, and trying to put a roof over our heads - I really didn't see any problem with it."
Ivancie and council member Loui Antonucci said it may be time to review the occupancy zoning law.
"I know the city and the police department are just enforcing the rules on the books, but if it's an inappropriate law, it's important for us to review it," Ivancie said.
"I think we should have that discussion at some point. I'm not sure (the law) makes sense," Antonucci said.
Ivancie said the issue is especially relevant given the city's ongoing efforts to supply affordable housing.
"People will do what they have to do to put a roof over their head, in a way that they can afford to do it," Ivancie said. "It's always been expensive to live in Steamboat, and it's not getting any cheaper."
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