Mountain Law: Reflections on the Yacht Club case
I admit that I thought the Yacht Club was going to lose its controversial case against the Town of Dillon concerning the historic practice of condominium owners parking on the town right-of-way. At the time, the case was talked about in terms of a “prescriptive easement,” which is a type of easement that can sometimes be established by long-standing use of someone else’s property. It is almost impossible to establish a prescriptive easement against the government. So, I figured the Yacht Club would lose on that score.
I also figured that, just because the town did not require the Yacht Club developer to build parking when the project was developed, didn’t make the lack of parking the town’s problem. At some point, there is still something called “caveat emptor” or “buyer beware”. . . and if the Yacht Club owners bought into a project that didn’t have enough parking, then what right had they to complain about lack of parking?
Well, we all know that Yacht Club won. With the recent news that the town is appealing the court’s decision, I decided to read the opinion from the trial court to better understand why I guessed wrong about the outcome.
To begin with, Yacht Club did not argue the case in terms of having a prescriptive easement as I expected. Rather, Yacht Club argued-and the court agreed-that when the town approved the Yacht Club development without requiring on-site parking, the Yacht Club owners could thereafter park on the town right-of-way for lack of anywhere else to park.
This part of the decision does not ring true to me for the reason mentioned above – it assumes that the government must protect individuals from themselves (and makes it sound like parking is an inalienable right). While it’s certainly not a good idea for a town to approve a project with inadequate parking, I don’t believe the public should be required to absorb the burden for the affected owners. (It appears that the town actually wanted to require parking at the time but was prevented from doing so by a controversial precedent that was later overturned).
The better reasoned part of the opinion is that the court thought the town was being unduly harsh on the Yacht Club. Specifically, the court found that the town could have planned the road improvements that prompted the dispute in a way that would not have aggravated the parking situation. Among other perceived abuses, the court criticized instances where the town permits use of the right-of-way in other parts of town by other owners; that the town posted “no parking” signs only near the Yacht Club property; and that the town passed parking ordinances during the litigation that were apparently directed at the Yacht Club owners.
My overall impression is that both sides are part right and part wrong. In my mind the case sets a bad precedent that property owners can blame local government for their lack of parking (or other problems), but it correctly affirms that local government should be fair and not aggravate problems once they occur. It is unfortunate that the case has been marred from the beginning with unnecessary personal attacks from both sides. I am disappointed to see the battle continue in just the last week with the Town allegedly refusing to clear snow near the Yacht Club and the Yacht Club asking the Court to find town officials in contempt.
The end of the trial court’s decision contains the following rebuke: “The court does sincerely believe this is a case, which cried out for collaboration between a local government and its community members. Instead, it was litigated, at no small expense, with a ‘war of words’ in a court. . . .” It is not too late for the sides to end the “war of words” and work collaboratively toward a solution.
Noah Klug is principal of The Klug Law Firm, LLC, a general law practice in Summit County emphasizing real estate, commercial law and litigation. He may be reached at (970)468-4953 or Noah@TheKlugLawFirm.com.
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