City officials are sparring with Riverside residents who historically have maintained a small city-owned piece of open space inside the subdivision. Residents have been mowing the area since the 1980s and have used the space as a small community park.

Photo by John F. Russell

City officials are sparring with Riverside residents who historically have maintained a small city-owned piece of open space inside the subdivision. Residents have been mowing the area since the 1980s and have used the space as a small community park.

City, residents spar about unofficial park

Riverside resident ticketed for mowing shrubs on city land


— A battle has sprung up between Steamboat Springs residents who voluntarily have maintained a piece of city-owned property in their neighborhood and government officials who think the parcel should be allowed to evolve more naturally.

On June 9, David Epstein was ticketed by the Steamboat Springs Police Department for mowing down willow shrubs with a heavy duty bush mower in the Riverside neighborhood in western Steamboat. The shrubs were on a 4-acre piece of city-owned property along the Yampa River.

For years, a portion of the property has been voluntarily mowed by residents and used as an impromptu community park, Riverside resident and Steamboat attorney Cheryl Hardy-Moore said. In addition to Epstein's culling of shrubs, Hardy-Moore said the city now also is questioning whether it is legal for residents to mow grass on the parcel.

Director of Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Chris Wilson said Epstein was ticketed under a provision of the city's municipal code that states, "No person except the city manager shall spray, mulch, fertilize, or otherwise treat, remove, destroy, break, cut or trim any living plant or any part thereof growing on city property without first having obtained a written permit from the manager."

"All such plants belong to the city," Wilson said.

Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae said Epstein was ticketed after the city received a complaint about his removing of the shrubs. Rae said Epstein was witnessed throwing willows into the river. The city also is concerned about a bench on the property near the river, which they think was installed by Epstein.

"The city has design standards and management practices," Wilson said. "If someone wants a memorial bench, there's a process they have to go through. : If anybody was hurt on that bench, whose liability is that?"

There also is a hockey net on the property at the end of the mowed field.

At its meeting Wednesday, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission will decide whether to schedule a discussion about the controversy at a later meeting. City Manager Jon Roberts said Epstein's ticket is being held in abeyance - and a Riverside resident has been given a permit to continue mowing the field - in the interim.

Five Riverside residents deeded the piece of land in question to the city in 1989 under specific conditions.

"There is this dedication that the lot is maintained in a natural, scenic condition," Roberts said. "Exactly what that means is open to interpretation."

Wilson said the city has been managing the parcel in an open-space context and has installed boulders and logs to keep vehicles off the property.

But Hardy-Moore said she thinks that in ticketing Epstein and questioning the legality of mowing a field on the property, the city is overreaching. She said the willows sprung up in recent years - blocking residents' views of the Yampa River - and removing them was consistent with "maintaining" the property.

"It's restoring what it used to be like," said Hardy-Moore, who has lived in Riverside since 1991. "Our theory legally - and emotionally, but definitely legally - is that mowing the lawn is not constructing an improvement : and it is being maintained in an open, scenic and natural condition, more like it was before. : The intent was, we didn't want a jungle gym."

Hardy-Moore said two of the five residents who deeded the land to the city still live in the neighborhood and are thrilled with the way the property has evolved. She also thinks the recently installed boulders were intended to block the riding lawnmower a resident uses to mow the field.

"I can appreciate that they're trying to protect city property," she said, "but I think they're going totally overboard in how they're trying to interpret the deed."

Wilson, however, said all city residents deserve to have a say in how the property is managed.

"Because it's city-owned property managed by the city, it makes sense to open : up (the discussion)," Wilson said. "As a public property, it needs to go through the public process."

Wilson said he is hopeful the city and Riverside residents can work together to reach a common ground regarding the parcel.


Tracy Barnett 7 years, 9 months ago

You have got to be kidding!!!!! Apparently the complainer in Riverside has nothing better to do. This is one less park the City, being short of finances, has to maintain. Maybe it is good, however, that the discussion has been opened and the interpretation can be clarified for that parcel of land. If two of the residents that donated the land speak up and clarify their intent, that should help the problem. What good is a park if it can't be used? Willows growing up in the middle of a grassy field doesn't help a soccer ball roll very well.


Chad James 7 years, 9 months ago

All I see here is fantastic initiative by some citizens to do their part to help. A place can get far too hung up in "design standards", and I think that's where the city is headed with this one. Let the people mow the empty lot!


Kevin Nerney 7 years, 9 months ago

The five residents who deeded the land should recant the deed and take it back. Problem solved. Since there will no night life in Ski Time Sq. the cops will have plenty to do rounding up the drunks who spend money downtown and try to get back to the mountain so they won't have time for such petty offenses like citing people for cutting the grass.


greenwash 7 years, 9 months ago

I wonder....

1- If Chris Wilson has ever run a lawnmower let alone one mounted on the rear of a tractor?

2-If Jon Roberts knows where this so called Riverside Park is even located?


bandmama 7 years, 9 months ago

I may have missed the point in the article that explained that there were perhaps endangered/protected plants in this area that may be used in point to ticket a gentleman who has made an effort to provide a nice "lawn" for public activity? What a crock..... Thanks Mr. Epstein for helping to maintain something positive for the community. If you get stuck having to pay for future tickets, I would be more than happy to contribute to the fund. As stated above, this is saving the city money and providing an area of enjoyment for many. Forget "design standards" the picture above clearly shows a neat maintained area. Give the written permit and lets find something worthwhile to complain about.


aichempty 7 years, 9 months ago

My little voice tells me that the people who complained like the privacy afforded by the land, and having someone appropriate it for private use results in noise, intrusion and a decrease in the value and enjoyment of the adjacent properties.

I came home from a trip and found that my neighbor had paid someone to cut down trees on my property. They were also allowing their kids to ride snowmobiles on my property. This is the same thing.

If you want more land for your kids or your own enjoyment, either move to a place where you can buy it, or use the city supported parks that are in place to accommodate public use. People are not allowed to live in the National Forest, cut trees without permits, etc. No difference.

If the City allows Mr. Epstein to continue cutting shrubs, etc., and he injures himself, then guess who is liable? The City, of course. If someone else gets hurt using the fixtures erected on the property, who is liable? The City, of course.

Before everybody jumps on the person who made the complaint, consider how you'd like it if somebody came and camped in your back yard. I know that bandmama has a different view on these things, but property rights are part of our system of laws, and if you'd ever dealt with someone who abused them and damaged your property, you'd understand why people complain.


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