Steamboat Springs 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.