Steamboat’s legal battle with West Acres Mobile Home Park nears end
September 19, 2012
Aug. 9, 2009: West Acres residents fight road route
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs’ four-year-long legal battle with residents of the West Acres Mobile Home Park is nearing an end.
But neither side is celebrating.
In the quiet neighborhood in western Steamboat, residents feel the city’s $82,000 settlement offer amounts to nothing.
"We feel like we’ve been given the shaft," West Acres resident Tom Williams said.
Williams, who has served as a spokesman for the residents in the lawsuit, estimated the settlement will grant each of the 81 plaintiffs an average of $325, which is $50 more than the $275 each of them paid to join the lawsuit.
The offer is far less than the $400,000 in damages the homeowners were seeking because of construction of a nearby road.
West Acres resident Liz Croes said Wednesday that she wasn’t thinking about the money. She was relieved the legal battle is almost over.
Life before the road
Sitting on her back deck, Croes remembered life before the fence and the road that initiated the bitter legal battle.
She said she loved seeing elk, deer and antelope frequent the greenbelt that bordered her backyard a few years ago.
Down the street, day care owner Leigh McGlone said the greenbelt was a place she could take children to explore in the summer and sled in the winter.
But the Gloria Gossard Parkway changed all of that.
"I haven’t seen anything on that hill for a couple years," Croes said as she gestured toward the wooden fence hiding the road that replaced the greenbelt.
McGlone also laments the road and fence that prevent the children at her day care from playing on the hill.
In 2009, Croes and McGlone joined about 79 other West Acres homeowners in a lawsuit against the city.
The homeowners wanted the city to pay $400,000 in damages for the devaluation of their property, which they said resulted from the construction of the roadway over the greenbelt. Some property owners also claimed the construction of the $1.3 million road damaged their homes.
The city defended the road’s construction and argued the residents weren’t eligible to sue for damages because they didn’t own the land their mobile homes resided on.
The city did compensate the owners of the land the mobile home park resides on for the destruction of the greenbelt.
The road was intended to serve as an artery for future development in west Steamboat. But after the rejection of Steamboat 700 and a lack of other development, the road is closed and comes to a dead end.
"It was hard to watch them build it," McGlone said. "We just wondered, ‘Where is this road going to go?’"
A long battle
In 2010, homeowners who opposed the road’s construction were bolstered by a Colorado Court of Appeals decision that allowed their lawsuits to continue. But they recently suffered a major setback when District Court Judge Shelley Hill ruled they could not seek legal fees or damages from the city because their homes are personal property, not real estate.
Residents were essentially told they don’t own the land under their houses.
"They wore us down," Croes said about the city. "We’re out of gas. We’re out of funds. We have nothing left to do."
City attorney Dan Foote presented the $82,000 settlement to the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night.
He said while the city was likely to avoid any further litigation from the homeowners, he didn’t want to risk a surprise verdict in a future court of appeals decision.
"This is the low-risk option," Foote said Wednesday. "I think we were in a very strong position, but the court of appeals surprised us once in this case already."
The settlement was barely approved by the council.
Council member Cari Hermacinski, who opposed the settlement with council members Scott Myller and Walter Magill, questioned why the city was settling for a higher amount than the original $40,000 settlement they offered to the homeowners before they received an unfavorable court ruling.
Council member Sonja Macys said it was time to close the case.
"At some point, we do have to accept responsibility for putting a road in that place that doesn’t do any good and move forward," she said.
Closing the case
John Grassby, an attorney representing the homeowners, wrote in an email Wednesday he couldn’t comment on the settlement until it is signed by both parties.
When West Acres residents first joined a lawsuit against the city, Croes said she was fired up.
"I’m a child of the ’60s," she said. "When there was an injustice back then, people roared up and said ‘no.’ But those days are gone."
She said she learned at a meeting earlier this month that residents had one more legal chance to further their case, but it required residents to raise about $100 each to continue.
She said the settlement became the best option.
"I’m relieved. I’m glad it’s over with," she said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com