Neighbors not happy with fine doled out to developer
BRECKENRIDGE – Sasha Galbraith is saddened to hike through what used to be a thicket of old lodgepole pines in upper Warrior’s Mark – an area that is now a field of tree stumps.
The 52 trees were on U.S. Forest Service land adjacent to a home that, at the time, was owned by developer Gene Gregory.
He illegally cut them down Aug. 27, 2001, and last week, a U.S. district court fined him $5,000 for the deed. He also will have to pay to replace the 52 lodgepole pines with 56 Engelmann spruce trees.
But neighbors aren’t pleased with the punishment, saying the fine and cost of replanting trees is a drop in the bucket for a house that now affords million-dollar – or more – views. They also say the fine isn’t enough to deter others from doing the same.
That’s a major concern to town officials who already struggled with a similar incident. In the Goldflake subdivision homeowner Al Nilsson cut down nine trees on his property before selling the house to sportscaster Mitch Albom. It is illegal to cut down trees within the town limits without a permit. The ordinances are in place to protect views from the valley floor. The town council has since made it a criminal offense to cut down trees without a permit.
“We like to have a tree buffer,” said Breckenridge Planning Commissioner Eric Mamula. “We can’t see a lot of houses all over the place.”
According to U.S. Forest Service special agent Luke Konantz, Gregory said he cut down the trees as part of a fire mitigation plan to protect his home against wildfire. Konantz said last week that Forest Service officials believe the punishment fits the crime.
But neighbors said Gregory did it for the view of the Tenmile Range that would increase the value of the home. He was originally asking $1.4 million for the house, but increased the asking price to $2.4 million because he added 3,000 square feet to the house, said his broker, Tom Day of Breckenridge Associates. Gregory sold the house in January to Jonathan Highbarger and Denise Blodig of Kingwood, Texas, for $1.7 million.
“This is just two years of ridiculous things,” Day said of the incident. “The town should lighten up on getting rid of these damn things (lodgepole pine). They’re the ugliest tree; they don’t do anything to block the view of the home (from the valley). All they do is block the view of people in the houses.”
“He chopped them down so he could get a bunch of sun in there and get a great view – it’s just a business deal,” neighbor Rick Grossman said. “You spend $5,000 to increase the value of a house, make a couple hundred thousand more in the sale – as a business person, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s not a stiff enough fine. It’s a joke. He’s laughing at the court.”
Gregory, who could not be reached for comment, faced a maximum penalty of six months in prison, a $5,000 fine and restitution.
“I think it’s a slap on the hand,” Galbraith said. “I can’t imagine it would stop others.”
Galbraith and others are working through their homeowner’s association to conduct a fire mitigation plan – a process that involves permits, fees, forest evaluations and money to thin trees.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said. “If all you get fined is $5,000, from the standpoint of someone who’s trying to do this according to the law, it all seems unfair.”
“This community is not about buying a lot, cutting them down so everyone can see your home,” Mamula said. “People need to be sensitive to the community wishes – otherwise move to the city. People keep doing this and people aren’t going to want to live here anymore – it’s going to be like living everywhere else. That’s not what I want, it’s not what most people want. There are always a few people who spoil it for everyone else.”
Many upper Warrior’s Mark residents, while firm in their belief that such a punishment won’t deter others from doing the same, say most people will do the right thing.
“The unscrupulous people will cut the trees down,” Grossman said. “Others will get permission. I don’t think all the builders in town will say, “Hey, now we can cut down all the trees.’ They don’t want to get a bad reputation. He just doesn’t care.”
Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula said he’s disgusted with what people think they can get away with.
“We never put the hammer down like we should on some on these egregious cases,” he said. “Five grand for a million-dollar view … I get so damn disgusted.”
“The deterrent should be that people buy into their community enough that they don’t want to spoil how it looks by doing these kind of things,” Eric Mamula said. “The town shouldn’t have to be a hard-ass about it. If you need a view and it’s not on the piece of property you’re on, move back to the city.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or
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