Common ground: Despite the county’s earlier orders to remove a berm by Highway 9, a property owner will have to remove only a portion |

Common ground: Despite the county’s earlier orders to remove a berm by Highway 9, a property owner will have to remove only a portion

SUMMIT COUNTY – A berm that has sparked a neighborhood controversy and drawn a barrage of criticism might not disappear entirely, as Summit County’s commissioners had originally ordered.

Instead, Mark Mathis – who last summer asked a highway contractor to put the excavated road material on his land – will likely keep at least 500 feet of the berm, perhaps more if his neighbors and the county can find common ground.

He is still required to remove the bulk of the berm, and that work could start within days.

No one – from Mathis to his neighbors and some county officials – seems happy about the recent developments.

The 2,000-foot-plus-long structure runs along Highway 9 near the Sierra Bosque subdivision, about nine miles north of Silverthorne. Mathis owns a home there, along with an undeveloped subdivision called Oasis Ranch. His father and another man also own two lots along the highway. All of those properties are now obscured by the berm.

In December, the county commissioners ordered Mathis to remove the entire structure as soon as the weather allowed. Commissioners said he never got the required permit to build a berm.

But Mathis came back to the commissioners, this time with legal advice. After taking a closer look at their regulations, county officials say it appears he can keep the portions of the berm that are on private property. That includes his own lot and the two other private lots north of Blue Ridge Road.

“Our regulations allow people to have berms on their own property for landscaping purposes as long as they meet our regulations,” County Commissioner Bill Wallace said. “Neighbors really can’t dictate what a person can do on their property.”

More than 1,000 feet of theberm will disappear, leaving about 500 feet in front of Mark Mathis’ house and another 500 to 700 feet north of Blue Ridge Road. Those portions won’t get approval to stay until the county evaluates them against berm regulations they’re considering.

Even if those sections remain, they won’t stay in their current condition but will be groomed, reduced in size and landscaped. Currently, bits of rebar and concrete from highway construction jut out of portions of the berm.

The county will host a neighborhood meeting to hear area homeowners’ opinions on the portions of the berm that might remain.

“It’s not a done deal,” said county planner Chris Hawkins. “We’re working to try to make it more palatable to the community and establish some criteria for berms.”

To prevent a similar controversy in the future, the county has penned the berm regulations, which will be presented to the countywide planning commission during the group’s June 2 meeting.

“We’re using those proposed standards to evaluate this berm,” Hawkins said. “It’s actually a good test case.”

Mathis said the material he’ll have to remove will likely go where he’d feared – in a different spot along Highway 9 as part of the state highway department’s newly constructed berms. Those berms sprang up during the past two years as contractors piled excavated road material in the state right of way.

“This kind of became a political football,” Mathis said. “I understand part of the issue is people couldn’t envision it as a nice-looking berm. But they will look at the same material across or down the road, and it’s not going to be groomed as nice. I would have had to adhere to higher standards with the county. The state’s rules are more lenient.”

Some of Mathis’ neighbors who had counted on seeing the berm vanish this spring aren’t thrilled with the most recent news.

“I have sent an e-mail to all the county commissioners asking them what happened to the decision that was made last fall,” said Dan Miller, a Sierra Bosque homeowner who practices real estate law. “I thought it was absolutely determined that berm was not compatible with the master plan and the rural character of the Lower Blue, that a permit was not going to be issued retroactively for it and that it had to go. I want somebody to answer why we have suddenly changed our minds about that. They haven’t heard the last of it – trust me.”

“The county doesn’t stand behind their decisions,” said Maxine Horwitz, another Sierra Bosque resident, “and they’re not informing us until decisions have been made. We’re up in arms about this.”

County Commissioner Gary Lindstrom said the county’s hands appear to be tied on the issue.

“I would like to see whatever the citizens in that area would like to see,” he said. “If it’s their desire it not be there at all, then that’s probably what should happen. But if we don’t have the authority under the existing codes, we can’t do anything about it.”

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at

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