Ken and Terri Carpenter fear that summer evenings on their new patio won't be the same if the New Victory Highway carries traffic just across their fenceline in a desgnated greenbelt.

Photo by Tom Ross

Ken and Terri Carpenter fear that summer evenings on their new patio won't be the same if the New Victory Highway carries traffic just across their fenceline in a desgnated greenbelt.

West Acres residents fight road route

'Victory Highway' a misnomer to mobile-home habitants

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West Acres Greenbelt

Residents of the West Acres mobile home park discuss the potential loss of open spaces as a result of plans to develop new infrastructure.

Residents of the West Acres mobile home park discuss the potential loss of open spaces as a result of plans to develop new infrastructure.

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Proposed Victory Highway

West Acres history and case facts

- April 1978

Steamboat residents Charles G. Williams and Don Valentine file a plat creating West Acres Park subdivision for themselves and partners William Holiday Jr., George Blair and Sherwood Johnston. The subdivision creates 92 mobile-home lots.

The plan includes two greenbelts; one is to the south to screen the residences from an operating gravel pit where West End Village now stands. The second, larger greenbelt to the north was intended for the recreation of residents.

The subdivision is just outside the western limits of Steamboat Springs in Routt County.

- 1979

Valentine proposes adding an additional 200 lots in filing 2 of the subdivision.

The county approves the addition in June 1979, and during that timeframe county officials discuss the need for connecting roads, including one that might go through West Acres Industrial Park to the east. Changes considered also include a road connection through the smaller southern greenbelt that would connect to filing 2.

However, the addition never is built, and to this day, there is no signed final plat on file with the Routt County Clerk & Recorders Office. The preliminary plat is filed but unsigned.

Approval of the roads was a condition of final approval, and the road plan never was formally approved.

- December 1989

The city annexes land west of Steamboat, including West Acres. In the process, the city acquires title to the greenbelts.

- October 2006

Pursuant to the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, Steamboat Springs City Council authorizes the acquisition of property near West Acres for the extension of Abbey Road and creation of the New Victory Highway into an area designated for future residential growth. The city intends to build the new roads through the West Acres greenbelts. The city files a quiet title action against the original mobile-home-park developers and a number of commercial property owners in West Acres Commercial Subdivision. The city reaches financial settlements with all but C.D. Johnson, longtime owner of a local excavating business. Negotiations about the financial settlement pertaining to the condemnation continue into the summer of 2009.

- August 2008

District Court Judge Michael O'Hara rules that the city's intended use of the greenbelts is inconsistent with roadway uses. He further rules that Johnson had sufficient interest in the greenbelt to preclude the city's proposed roads.

Finally, O'Hara issues an injunction against the city subject to its ability to successfully condemn Johnson's property.

West Acres homeowners, alarmed by the pending loss of the use of their greenbelts, seek through attorneys to be added to the condemnation proceedings because of a cross-party interest.

- May 2009

District Court Judge Shelley Hill rules against the homeowners. She rules that state statutes do not give them an interest in the property and that any claims they might have should have been filed against their landlords instead of against the city as condemning authority.

— After losing their home in Westland Mobile Home Park to redevelopment in 2006, Aimee Weekslynn and Stuart Lynn thought they had found a refuge with a new trailer in West Acres Mobile Home Park. Instead, they find themselves caught up in a court case that could decide whether the calm neighborhood they share with 91 neighbors will be transformed by a pair of roads the city of Steamboat Springs seeks to build through their dedicated greenbelts.

"What do I have to do? Move to Idaho?" Lynn asked this week.

Weekslynn and Lynn and their neighbors said they are angry. They think the beautiful summer evenings they enjoy would be shattered if the New Victory Highway and an extension of Abbey Road are built through the greenbelts of their 30-year-old neighborhood. West Acres is tucked out of sight on the city's far west side. Steamboat residents who don't visit friends there may not be aware of its existence. But it's home to more than 90 families.

Noting that the city just agreed not to build a road through Rita Valentine Park, near the expensive homes in the neighborhoods near Anglers Drive, some West Acres residents feel they aren't as important in the eyes of the city as those of other neighborhoods.

Tom Armstrong, a 28-year resident of West Acres, stated it bluntly: "We're trailer trash," he said. "We've been fighting developments for a long time."

Neighborhood spokesman Tom Williams asked Steamboat Springs City Council whether it was aware of their plight.

"We are very upset about roads planned over the top of two greenbelts," Williams told council during its meeting Tuesday. "We were never told these roads were going in by the city of Steamboat Springs and never asked whether we minded them going in and never offered any reasonable compensation for the devaluation of our homes. Are you aware of this?"

City Council President Loui Antonucci said Friday that he'd known for years about the planned route of the Victory Highway but that he didn't become aware of homeowners' concerns until the afternoon of the meeting.

"I never dreamed it would be a problem with the trailer owners," he said. "Who wants to beat up on local people? They're my friends. Especially Tom Williams."

Deep roots

West Acres began its existence in 1978-79, pressed against a gravel pit that was outside the city limits at the time.

The neighborhood has matured nicely. The homes are well maintained, the trees and shrubs have matured, and the neighborhood is at the end of what amounts to a cul de sac, with no through traffic.

On an early August evening, dramatic sunset views stretched across acres of undisturbed tall grasses, and two mule deer walked cautiously into the larger of two greenbelts.

City staff attorney Dan Foote has pursued the easement necessary for the new boulevard connecting Routt County Road 129 with the proposed Steamboat 700 development. Antonucci said his understanding is that the route is the only viable option. Foote had looked into an existing easement through the heart of the mobile home park, Antonucci said. But it is so narrow, it would have required encroaching on the mobile homes themselves.

For City Council, Antonucci said, it's a matter of balancing what's best for the entire city with the interests of the neighborhood.

Terry Armstrong, Tom's wife, said that in her mind, the road is unnecessary.

"They are going to put a super highway through here. But it's a road to nowhere," Terry Armstrong said. "They call it the Super Victory Highway, but it will do nothing to resolve the impact of the traffic on (U.S. Highway) 40 or (C.R.) 129. It's going to go through our property values and ruin our lives."

The Armstrongs have a wooden swing on the west-facing deck of their home that lets them take in the summer sunset in the direction of Sleeping Giant. They envision streams of traffic permanently altering the view.

Like the Armstrongs, many West Acres residents have lived there and watched their children grow up there for more than 25 years.

Now, attorney John Grassby is preparing documents to appeal the homeowners' case to the Colorado Court of Appeals, in hopes of preventing the two roads from encroaching on the two easements that bracket the trailer park, or at least winning a cash settlement to offset the impacts residents say will diminish the value of their homes.

Residents said they aren't as interested in the cash - averaging about $5,000 per home - as they are in stopping construction of the roads.

"The best result for them is for the road to be abandoned," Grassby said. "The greenbelts were deeded to the city (when it annexed West Acres) to hold in perpetuity."

Legal questions

He called the city's action a violation of the public trust doctrine, a legal principle dictating that government preserve resources for the good of all.

Grassby also asserts that converting the greenbelt is in direct opposition to the city's strongly held philosophical stance on preserving open space.

The case could turn on the fact that, as owners of mobile homes, the West Acres residents do not own the land beneath their homes.

The court case began in fall 2006, when the city sought to condemn the property of longtime Steamboat excavating contractor C.D. Johnson - who bases his business in the nearby West Acres commercial subdivision - to be able to build the road.

District Court Judge Michael O'Hara ruled that in order to prevail, the city must satisfy O'Hara's ruling of Johnson's financial interests in the same greenbelts that border the mobile-home park.

Foote said lengthy negotiations on the financial settlement in that case continue.

Grassby petitioned the court to allow the homeowners to piggyback onto the Johnson proceedings.

"I thought it would be a slam dunk that we'd be allowed to intervene and it would just be a matter of how much," Grassby said.

However, Foote argued that as renters of their home lots, the homeowners were not entitled to a financial stake in the greenbelts attached to the subdivision.

District Court Judge Shelley Hill concurred and ruled against the homeowners, finding that the property rights are attached to the owners of the mobile home park, who own the actual land. Grassby intends to refer that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich pointed out that the city had offered the residents of the mobile-home park $44,000 to compensate them for the loss of the greenbelt, but Williams called that an insult.

"We were brushed off," Williams said. "After attorney fees and dividing it 82 ways, (the number of homeowners participating in the civil action) that would leave each member about $365."

What's at stake

Grassby said he thinks mobile-home owners have a financial stake in the greenbelts attached to their neighborhood.

He retained a Denver appraisal firm on behalf of his clients to assign values to the homes with the greenbelts intact and without. The conclusion was that in aggregate, the greenbelts add $400,000 to the value of the homes in the neighborhood. The amount of damages the appraiser assigned to individual homes in the subdivision varied with their estimated market value and their proximity to the greenbelts.

The damages for homes immediately adjacent to the greenbelts, where the roads would come close to homes, vary from $2,850 to $11,250.

Damages for homes on the interior loop of the subdivision, where homeowners are somewhat insulated from traffic noise, range from $3,000 to $5,000, based on the appraisals.

Foote, who has worked for years to accomplish City Council's directive that the property rights be acquired to build the new arterial road, said he thinks there is at least one previous case in Colorado that makes it clear individual homeowners don't have a financial stake in greenbelts.

Homeowners said it's not the money they're after - it's about preservation of their lifestyle.

Terri and Ken Carpenter just moved to their home in West Acres in March 2008. Maps anticipating the route of the Victory Highway through the northernmost and largest of the two greenbelts show the new boulevard coming very close to the corner of their lot and the new stone barbecue patio they just completed. Just over their property line, is the greenbelt covered in tall grass. As if on cue recently, a pair of mule deer walked by enjoying the cool of an early summer evening.

"It's like the Garden of Eden up here," Ken Carpenter said. "We were told this was all greenbelt back here. We don't want to see headlights coming through at night."

Comments

exduffer 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice comment Loui. Do you suppose you would have been aware of the neighbors concerns if the Hilltop Parkway had connected Anglers Drive and Valverdant?

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ssnative38 4 years, 8 months ago

I used to live in West Acres and did enjoy the use of the greenbelts, but I also think everyone there and in Anglers drive area should get over their insistence on "not in my backyard", when it comes to relieving congestion on 40. We need alternative routes through all these areas. Then take a page from some urban freeways and sink the actual roadways below ground level, in sensitive areas, with noise absorbent fences and pedestrian bridges to mitigate the other impacts.

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