Silverthorne moves on trail segment despite lawsuit
Summit Daily News
Silverthorne’s plan to begin constructing a portion of proposed recpath east of the Blue River adjoining the Willow Grove Open Space could end up a trail to nowhere if the court rules in favor of plaintiffs in November.
The court date Nov. 15 should bring resolution to the design and construction of the southern portion of Blue River Trail Segment 5 through an existing easement, whose defining language is being contested by adjacent landowners.
“We think they’re stupid. Why would they do that? … It doesn’t make any sense,” said Charlie Crowley, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Silverthorne officials speak in favor of the trail segment as an “integral part of the 2004 Blue River Trail Master Plan, it has widespread community support, and the Town has an easement to build a public walkway in this location,” Mayor Dave Koop said in a press release.
The trail segment has partial funding through a $500,000 grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and roughly $200,000 more from an agreement with a land developer. It’s expected to cost about $1.6 million, with the remainder coming from the lodging tax and excise tax funds.
“Although the final design details for the southern half of the trail are uncertain, we look forward to completion of the northern portion of the trail this year,” Koop said in the release. “We also look forward to the future completion of the southern connection of Segment 5. That portion will complete the safe off-street route between two existing Blue River Trail segments, and add an enjoyable and scenic experience to the trail system.”
Construction on the northern part of the trail segment is to begin Sept. 5. The proposed segment would connect town hall with the Tammy Jamieson Memorial 221-foot bridge completed in 2009.
It’s the town’s understanding that it has the right to install and maintain a recpath extension in the easement on the southern portion of the trail, located in the Blue River Mesa neighborhood. However, the specific path design and uses legally allowed within that easement are still in question. Both parties have roughly three months to gather evidence supporting their intepretation of the meaning of “public walkway” in the easement definition.
In July, the court ordered a partial injunction related to the Blue River Trail Segment 5 litigation. Because the town owns the property on which the Willow Grove neighborhood’s northern section will be built, officials are free to proceed with its construction. The partial injunction prevents any construction from occurring on the southern portion of the trail until the litigation is resolved.
Crowley said he’s pleased with the outcome of the injunction hearing, as it prevents “damage” to the affected property until the case is decided. He cites old-growth trees along the riverbank, animal habitat and wetlands that could be damaged if the recpath proceeds with its current design, which includes raised boardwalk sections along with asphalt portions.
Plaintiffs continue to suggest the town look to building on the west bank of the river, where it will eventually become riverfront mixed-use property and could benefit business owners. Or, they way, the town could maintain the dirt walking path on the eastern shore, while diverting bicycle traffic to Mesa Drive. They contend the easement isn’t meant as a thoroughfare trail.
Town manager Kevin Batchelder said past experiences working with homeowners adjacent to other Blue River Trail segments have been successful – including altering designs, adding requested landscape buffers and addressing other issues of concern.
“We have found the cooperative design approach to work very well, and would like to use that approach again,” he said. “Unfortunately, as it stands today, we are spending our time and taxpayer dollars defending a lawsuit, instead of working together on design solutions for the southern portion of the trail.”
Plaintiffs hold that there have been no attempted negotiations between them and town staff during nearly two decades of the town eyeing the Blue River Trail segment. Court-ordered mediation between the parties in July was unsuccessful, Crowley said.
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