RFTA, homeowners working to rectify dispute
Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials are offering to pay for residents of a south Glenwood Springs subdivision to hire their own surveyor to help determine if in fact parts of their yards cross into the historic Rio Grande rail right of way.
“These properties have been there since the 1950s, and the owners are understandably not eager to just concede that our survey is correct,” RFTA President and CEO Dan Blankenship said.
“They do have information that makes them believe they have clear title,” he said. “So we have proposed that they retain a professional surveyor who is familiar with railroad surveys to review our surveyor’s work and try to come to a better understanding of what exists out there.”
A 2012 survey done by RFTA revealed that several fenced and tree-lined yards and some outbuildings along Blake Court in the Cole Subdivision west of the Rio Grande Trail and north of Rosebud Cemetery encroach into the 200-foot railroad right of way that dates back to a late 1800s federal land grant.
Rather than trying to reclaim those areas, RFTA agreed last year as part of its access control plan negotiations with local jurisdictions to work with landowners to make sure their titles are not forever clouded.
At the same time, the agency wants to ensure an adequate right of way exists to accommodate a possible future commuter rail line, in accordance with the corridor’s legal railbanked status, Blankenship said.
The matter is on the agenda for a legal briefing Thursday as the RFTA board of directors holds its regular monthly meeting in Glenwood Springs, rather than the usual Carbondale location.
Several items of local interest are on the agenda when the board convenes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Glenwood Springs City Hall.
Among them are an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Glenwood Springs for the planned Eighth Street connection that must cross the rail corridor, consideration of a revised corridor access plan, and a possible decision whether to appeal a recent court ruling awarding damages to a Glenwood commercial property owner related to RFTA’s 27th Street BRT park-and-ride station.
The encroachment issue involving the Cole homeowners came to light as RFTA met resistance last year to its corridor access control plan, which sets up guidelines for where and how the old railroad line can be crossed.
Some downvalley governments said the plan was too restrictive and would make it cost prohibitive to develop private property along the corridor and to build public infrastructure projects. The plan has since been revised in an effort to make it less rigid.
If the proposed new survey confirms the yards in the Cole neighborhood do encroach, it would ultimately take an act of Congress to carry out RFTA’s proposed solution, Blankenship said.
The south Glenwood portion of the corridor is held by one of the original federal land grants that were used to establish railroad lines in the late 1800s.
At issue for RFTA is about seven miles spread across different parts of the 33-mile-long portion of the Rio Grande corridor that RFTA administers that are tied up in such grants. The railroad corridor in those sections is 200 feet, rather than the typical 100-foot right of way along most of the historic rail corridor.
The entire length of the corridor is legally railbanked to preserve it for future rail reactivation. If the corridor is dissected in a way that makes it unusable as a rail line, those land grant sections could fall to adverse possession by neighboring property owners, meaning the trail that now exists could go away too.
Blankenship said RFTA has proposed to deed about 70 feet of that grant area to the neighboring property owners, but retain 30 feet on the west side of the existing trail to allow for the addition of a double-track train system should that become viable someday.
“Some of that area does cut into a portion of what they consider to be their properties,” he said.
Any vegetation or structures would be allowed to remain through licensing. However, RFTA would be allowed to remove them at a future time if necessary, he said.
If an agreement can be worked out, RFTA would have to ask Congress to ratify the bargain and sale deeds to accomplish the transfer, Blankenship said.
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