Steamboat defends position on West Acres greenbelt compensation
Lettunich: At no time has city treated West Acres residents like ‘2nd-class citizens’
August 7, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify Charlie Williams’ ownership stake in the land that West Acres Mobile Home Park sits on.
Steamboat Springs City Attorney Tony Lettunich said Friday that it remains the city's position that the homeowners in West Acres Mobile Home Park are not eligible for compensation in the condemnation of a greenbelt under construction for a new road on the city's west side.
His remarks come in the wake of a Colorado Appeals Court ruling Thursday in the city's ongoing legal challenges with property owners and homeowners in the vicinity of the new Gloria Gossard Parkway of Downhill Drive.
In a separate but related matter, the Court of Appeals also has ruled in favor of "further (court) proceedings" about nearby commercial property owner Charles D. Johnson's claims that his interest in an abutting greenbelt was not properly valued.
Lettunich acknowledged that Thursday's West Acres ruling gives the homeowners standing to join the condemnation proceeding in District Court here as interested parties. However, he said the ruling does not find in favor of the homeowners in the larger issue of whether they have legal standing to seek compensation in the conversion of the greenbelt to an arterial road.
"We continue to believe that under state law on condemnation awards, the tenants have little, if any, interest in the elimination of a portion of the greenbelts connected with the subdivision," Lettunich said in a written statement.
The city previously offered the homeowners $40,000, or 10 percent of the amount they have asked for, to offset what they claim are reduced home values as a result of the greenbelt condemnation.
Lettunich said he could not comment on whether the city might exercise its right to appeal the decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, or whether it might seek a settlement with the mobile homeowners, until he discusses the decision with City Council.
The chain of events leading to the Appeals Court ruling goes back to 2006 when the city began to plan for construction of Gloria Gossard Parkway — then called New Victory Highway — intended to provide an arterial road connection to future residential development in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. It's an area deemed suitable for future growth and annexation under the right terms and conditions. A large residential project, Steamboat 700, since rejected by city voters, was part of the impetus for the new road. The parkway is under construction on the northern edge of West Acres, where residents once enjoyed the use of a greenbelt.
Many of the 92 homeowners in West Acres objected to the road construction and sought, through their attorneys, to join a suit against the city filed by an unrelated commercial property owner. However, District Court Judge Shelley Hill ruled in May 2009 that because they didn't own the land beneath their homes, they did not have standing to seek damages. The Appeals Court ruling on Thursday reversed that decision and remanded the matter back to District Court for trial.
Lettunich, who was traveling Thursday and wasn't available to comment for an article in Friday's Steamboat Today, called the ruling a technical one that speaks more to the relatively low standard the court defines for interested parties to intervene in a lawsuit than it does to the West Acres homeowners' underlying standing to seek compensation.
"The Court of Appeals decision was based on whether the tenants could intervene in the case and had little to do with the merits of the tenants' claims for compensation," Lettunich said in his written remarks.
The Appeals Court ruling implies that the District Court ruling focused too heavily on the city's case that the homeowners don't have standing to be compensated, and not enough on whether they could intervene in the condemnation lawsuit, Lettunich said.
The tenants collectively are seeking $400,000 in compensation based upon appraisals of their individual homes with and without the greenbelt.
In a phone interview Friday, Lettunich said the appraisals are beside the point. More importantly, he said, the homeowners neither own, nor do they have a lease, specifically on the greenbelt. And that's the standard he thinks is drawn by the statutes.
"Unless you have a legal right to compensation, the appraisals don't make any difference," Lettunich said. "Charles Williams is the owner of Lot 10 (in the West Acres subdivision comprising the mobile home park). It's a greenbelt (attached to Lot 10) that's being condemned. We don't believe the homeowners have a compensatory right because we've already compensated the owner."
Williams has since clarified that he is the manager of the park and a minority owner among several in West Acres Park LLC, which owns the mobile home park. The Colorado Secretary of State's Office lists Williams as the registered agent of the LLC. Williams said his percent ownership in the LLC has grown from 3 percent to 6 percent since the city of Steamboat Springs began negotiating to build the Gloria Gossard Parkway on greenbelts attached to the mobile home park.
Finally, Lettunich countered statements by a few West Acres homeowners who have said the city is treating them like second-class citizens.
"At no time has the City Council or the city staff done or said anything to justify the assertions that the West Acres tenants have been disparaged or treated as second-class citizens," Lettunich said. "The city is obligated to compensate those that the state statutes say are entitled to compensation. The city is just as obligated to not use taxpayer dollars to compensate those who are not covered by the statute.
"We feel strongly that the Colorado Legislature has drawn the line at ownership of the land taken or a leasehold interest in the land taken. If the courts or legislature extends that line to a greenbelt available to tenants who lease property that is not being condemned, then the city will certainly abide by that decision. At this time, we do not believe that is a compensable interest."