Residents of Steamboat mobile-home park vow to fight on
West Acres owners say they will continue 4-year-long legal battle
June 5, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Residents of the West Acres Mobile Home Park said Monday night that they will return to the Colorado Court of Appeals and continue their four-year-long legal battle with the city of Steamboat Springs over their right to be compensated for a condemned greenbelt that was turned into a road.
"We feel that our rights as personal property owners have been violated," neighborhood spokesman Tom Williams said Tuesday. "Everybody has decided that if it takes a long time, it takes a long time. We're willing to play this out as long as necessary."
Their willingness signals that the dispute could perhaps carry into a sixth year — the condemnation proceedings that led to the construction of Gloria Gossard Parkway on Steamboat's far west side began in 2008, and it will be at least two years before the appeals court will take another look at the case, an attorney for the homeowners said.
Homeowners met with attorneys John Grassby and Vance Halvorson to discuss their options after a recent series of rulings by District Court Judge Shelley Hill dealt them a major blow.
Williams acknowledged that the possibility of dropping the case came up.
"It was a real big setback. But everyone there felt they had been wronged," he said. "And the more we thought about it, the more it was like, 'We shouldn't just roll over just because the city and judge have gone against us.'"
Hill ruled that the homeowners could not seek legal fees from the city and that their homes are personal property not real estate, and thus, they are not eligible for damages under condemnation law.
The mobile home owners in West Acres thought they had won a decisive battle in late summer 2010 after the Colorado Court of Appeals overruled Hill and allowed them to intervene in a related condemnation case involving excavation contractor C.D. Johnson.
Grassby said at the time that the appeals court ruling also established that his clients were eligible to be compensated for the diminished value of their property through construction of the Gossard Parkway across the greenbelt.
However, the standing of the mobile-home owners, who lease their lots from park owner West Acres Partnerships and do not own them, always has been at dispute in this case. The city dealt with West Acres Partnership and not with the homeowners in its condemnation effort.
Hill had ruled in May 2010 that the homeowners did not have standing because they do not "own the dirt under their feet."
Grassby contends the case is straightforward and cites the U.S. and Colorado constitutions as making it clear that his clients are entitled to be compensated.
"If the old adage 'Justice delayed is justice denied' is true, then — given that the city originally filed this case in December 2007 but has yet to go to trial, notwithstanding having already gone up on appeal once and may be headed for appeal again — I leave you to draw your own conclusions," he said.
Hill, who previously has declined to comment on the case, ruled this spring that some, but not all, of the mobile-home owners have the right to pursue damages commensurable with the decline in value of their leases but reiterated her finding that the diminished value of their homes is not in question.
"The value of the mobile homes is not a factor in determining the value of the benefited property since they are all personal property," Hill wrote in her April 20 ruling.
Grassby contends neither the U.S. nor Colorado constitutions make a distinction between real property (real estate) and personal property in terms of the right of citizens to be compensated for condemnation of property.
However, Hill cites Colorado statutes that determine when a mobile or manufactured property becomes a permanent location and hence "real property." She found that no home in West Acres met those criteria.
Grassby had sought $400,000 from the city based on appraisals of the mobile homes and the leases attached to them. The city countered with an offer of $40,000.
City of Steamboat Springs staff attorney Dan Foote said this week that he had anticipated the attorneys for the homeowners might choose to recalculate their case based on the value of their clients' leases in the wake of Hill's most recent ruling.
"We are not in a position to just give them the money they are asking for," Foote said. "They might have some small claim, and we're willing to negotiate that, but they are pretty insistent on the full amount."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com