Sunday, September 6, 2009
Steamboat Springs The city of Steamboat Springs is being unnecessarily heavy-handed and overbearing in its handling of a resident-maintained park in the Riverside neighborhood on the west side of town. It's time city officials put an end to the dispute by drafting an agreement allowing the neighbors to continue to maintain and use, with limited restrictions, the piece of city-owned property.
The disagreement arose after Riverside resident Dave Epstein was issued a ticket June 9 for cutting down willow shrubs on a section of the four-acre parcel with a heavy-duty bush mower. Steamboat Springs Police Department officers were acting on a complaint from a neighbor.
That incident prompted the city to take a closer look at the park, which was deeded to Steamboat in 1990 by five Riverside residents, two of whom still live in the neighborhood. The residents bought the land to protect it from development. The deed states that the land conveyance to the city is valid only if it "remains predominantly in a natural, scenic and open condition without any construction of improvements thereon (except for streambank stabilization projects)."
Jim Funk, one of the five Riverside property owners on the deed, is happy with the way the space has been used, including the mowed field.
"I wanted to see my river," he told the Steamboat Pilot & Today for an Aug. 28 article.
But in an example of government bureaucracy gone bad, the city Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department suddenly has taken a heavy-handed approach to a parcel largely ignored since it was deeded in 1990.
After Epstein was issued his ticket, the city removed a salvaged bench that he had installed on the banks of the Yampa River. City officials said the bench didn't comply with their design standards and management practices. The city's efforts didn't end there. City staff also took the time to place several boulders near the park's entrance, essentially blocking the entrance for the riding mower that longtime Riverside resident Marty Boomgarden has used to cut the grass. City officials said the boulders were placed there to keep out vehicles.
Certainly there must be more important issues for the city to spend its time and money on. How many staff hours were wasted placing the boulders? And how many more hours will be wasted now that the city has agreed to remove the boulders?
The Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation Commission held its Aug. 26 meeting on the parcel. The city has been firm in its position that it must take responsibility for looking after the property while attempting to reach a compromise that satisfies neighborhood residents, is consistent with city policies and community plans and protects the Yampa River.
The city offered a compromise that would allow Riverside residents to continue mowing 0.4 acres of the property. The compromise excludes the area Epstein was ticketed for mowing, where willows encroach in an arc into the rectangular field. The compromise would then shrink the field by not allowing mowing within 25 feet of the river's high-water mark.
Parks and Recreation Commission Chairman Jack Trautman said he thought the compromise was reasonable, particularly because the city typically requires a 50-foot setback from the river's high-water mark. But that setback is for buildings and shouldn't be applied to a grass field. The maintained grass at Dr. Rich Weiss Park, for example, flirts with the riverbank.
The correct move would be for the city to draft an agreement with Riverside residents allowing them to continue to maintain the existing mowed area while not disturbing the actual riverbank. Such a simple, straightforward solution lets the residents enjoy their piece of open space while not burdening the Parks and Recreation Department with additional maintenance duties.