Silverthorne sued over trail expansion
Summit Daily News
Several Silverthorne residential property owners filed a lawsuit late last week against the Town of Silverthorne concerning the right to build a new Blue River Trail segment along easements on their private, riverside property.
Plaintiffs include 14 owners of eight lots in the Blue Mesa subdivision and six owners of four lots in the Willow Grove subdivision. They claim the town doesn’t have the authority to build a proposed hard surface recreation pathway from Town Hall to the Willow Grove Open Space on their private property. The trail is expected to cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, depending on its design and where it is installed. A $500,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant has been awarded for the project.
According to the lawsuit, Blue Mesa subdivision maps from half a century ago – prior to the town’s incorporation – show an easement running approximately from the middle of the Blue River onto the banks in the riverside properties, but the maps’ text states that “easements are dedicated to the public for the installation, use and maintenance of public utilities services, drainage facilities and public walkways.”
Plaintiffs believe “the purpose and intent of the public walkway easement was to afford fishermen and other pedestrians walkway access to the river,” according to the lawsuit.
Charlie Crowley, a Blue Mesa resident and plaintiff, said he and his neighbors are currently OK with the soft surface “social trail” as it exists – a 1-foot to 2-foot trail along the river – even though it meanders outside the easement. He said it’s generally used for fishing access, dog walking and occasional hikers or commuters.
“These backyards have remained essentially wild and natural, except for the narrow dirt trail,” the lawsuit states. “This is the first governmental attempt to modify a trail whose existence has been well established for nearly half a century.”
Crowley contends that the riverside easement belongs to the property owners, as their property lines extend into the river.
The Willow Grove neighborhood doesn’t have an easement provision like Blue Mesa’s, plaintiffs argue. Two easements exist, but neither includes language of public walkways, bike paths or other non-owner accesses. But Crowley said there’s an improved soft surface trail running between the river and the riverside homes.
According to the lawsuit, property owners have unanimously rejected the town’s requests for cooperation because they believe the construction design is outside of the easement’s provisions.
Crowley said there’s more at risk than the safety and security of the residential properties when increased recreational usage occurs on the improved trail. Proposed construction scenarios could mean chopping old growth trees along the riverbank to install asphalt trail, effects on wetland habitat and aquatic life if a boardwalk is constructed, access by property owners to their river banks, effects on property value – and more. Residents along a section of trail paved in the 1980s upstream from Crowley’s home are experiencing the safety and security concerns, he said.
Residents have suggested alternatives, Crowley said, such as building on the west bank, where the property is zoned as commercial use. Or improving the trail’s existing path along residential streets.
According to the lawsuit, the town’s master plan shows the contended segment as running along both sides of the river. On the west bank, “commercial property owners and business proprietors would welcome the traffic of residents and visitors,” the lawsuit states.
Crowley said he and his neighbors are more willing to concede on roadside property than riverside property.
The town has no comment yet on the pending litigation.
“We’ve not yet conferred with the town attorney on the matter, and thus will not be providing any public comment at this time,” said Town of Silverthorne spokesman Ryan Hyland.
Town officials have 20 days from Feb. 3 to file a response.
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