County gives up embattled ranch right of way
The Garfield County commissioners voted 2-1 Monday to vacate the road through the Prehm Ranch subdivision, giving up any claim to a road that trail proponents said could link Glenwood Springs and Carbondale via Westbank.Commissioners Walt Stowe and Larry McCown voted to vacate the road, while John Martin voted against the vacation.Monday’s vote came after county attorney Don DeFord presented the commissioners with dozens of new exhibits that pertain to property deeds and transfers in Prehm Ranch and Westbank, south of Glenwood Springs.In all, 78 documents and findings, dating from 1886 through the 1950s, were introduced for the commissioners to review during Monday’s public hearing and another held Aug. 19.Prehm Ranch covers approximately 100 acres along the Roaring Fork River, just south of the Glenwood Springs Municipal Airport. The subdivision approval calls for eight building sites.Two rights-of-way through Prehm Ranch have been debated since late July:-A former county road that has not been open to the public for approximately 70 years.-The old Colorado Midland Railroad right-of-way that runs north and south through Prehm Ranch.In explaining his vote to vacate the two-lane dirt road, Stowe said even if the county held on to the road, it still ends 200 feet short of Westbank.As for the Colorado Midland Railroad right-of-way, Stowe said it was clear to him the right-of-way was never deeded to the county.Martin countered that the Prehm family knew the road was a county road, but put up a gate to keep their cattle in. He also said the county should continue researching right-of-way issues at Prehm Ranch.”It’s premature to say the vacation would benefit the public,” Martin said.”We need to find a compromise,” Martin said. “We aren’t going to get that opportunity if we vacate the road.”For the past year, Prehm Ranch has been the target of debate, wrath or concerns from its neighbors, trails proponents and the county commissioners.-In September 2001, the developer, Marlin Colorado Ltd., extended the Prehm Ranch road from Four Mile Creek to and across a vacant lot in Westbank, stopping just short of Oak Lane. In response, the Westbank Homeowners Association and the county commissioners sued Marlin for building a road not approved by the county.-In January, the three parties crafted a settlement in the case that allows a private road extension to Westbank for Prehm Ranch residents use, and limits trips to 27 vehicles per day. The parties in the lawsuit have not yet approved the settlement.-In July, the Glenwood Springs City Council, in a letter, asked the Garfield County commissioners to preserve a trail right-of-way through Prehm Ranch, calling it “a super addition to the city trail system.”-After receiving a second letter from Glenwood Springs, Garfield County reopened the public hearing process on the road vacation.-On Aug. 14, a group of 60 walkers and cyclists who favored opening the road as a public trail attempted to travel the 1.5-mile road from the north end of Prehm Ranch to Westbank.They were met at the locked gate by Marlin attorney Rick Neiley. He had called out the sheriff to arrest the activists if they trespassed onto the property. The group backed off, and there were no arrests.Monday’s county commissioner meeting included reports from county surveyor Sam Phelps, and Commonwealth Title Co. owner Dean Hubbell. After a quick review of the Prehm Ranch area’s deeds, ownership changes, rights-of-way, title searches and more, attorney Neiley called the situation “a mess.” He said the settlement between Marlin, Westbank and the county should put those issues to bed.Steve Beattie, an attorney representing the Westbank Homeowners Association, also argued for the road’s vacation. “The public interest is served by the vacation,” said Beattie, who also lives at Westbank.Monday’s hearing attracted a handful of valley residents, most of whom spoke against the vacating the road.”If the county gives away something that belongs to the people, it will be lost forever,” said trails proponent Bruce Christensen.Jeanne Golay, a former Olympic cyclist and a member of the Lower Valley Trails Association, reminded the commissioners of their financial commitment to the LOVA trail system. She said if people have more trails, they will leave their cars at home and get on bikes. “You need to look at it as a transportation corridor,” Golay said of the route.Dan Duroux, a Westbank resident who opposed the road vacation, said, “There’s no excuse to let Prehm Ranch keep their illegally built road.”Westbank resident John Haines spoke for the vacation, and urged the commissioners to sign off on the lawsuit settlement. “Stand up and do the right thing. Sign this thing,” Haines told the commissioners.Haines said if the county wants a bike trail, it could be put along the existing railroad right of way, “right where the trail belongs.”The motion the county commissioners approved calls for the commissioners to sign the lawsuit settlement, and acknowledges that Garfield County doesn’t own the Colorado Midland Railroad right-of-way.In explaining his vote for the motion, Commissioner Larry McCown said if the Prehm family still owned the ranch, “nobody would want to punch through that trail.”
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