Rifle Club uses adverse possession in fence-line dispute
By Tom Ross Steambaot Pilot & Today
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Steamboat Springs — The Routt County Rifle Club has filed suit in Routt County District Court to assert its ownership of nearly five acres of disputed land along its boundary with the proposed Steamboat 700 development.
Both parties claim to own the land, located inside the Rifle Club’s fence line along its eastern and northern boundaries with Steamboat 700. The dispute may come down to Colorado’s adverse possession statute, which provides that when one party occupies and puts to use a portion of another party’s land throughout many years, with the second party “acknowledging and acquiescing” to the situation, the first party may claim ownership of the land.
The fence hasn’t stood for the past year, and both parties agree Steve Brown, who sold more than 500 acres to Steamboat 700 in March 2007, took it down about two weeks before the sale was consummated.
“Steve Brown asserted his claim (to the land),” Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said. “He’s the one who took the fence down. I really have nothing to do with it.”
“We put fence posts back up and put up signs letting people know it was our safety zone,” longtime Rifle Club member Kent Holt said.
The Rifle Club has operated a firing range for about 60 years on a bowl-shaped parcel off U.S. Highway 40 west of Steamboat Springs.
Steamboat 700 plans to build more than 2,000 homes on 700 acres it acquired in 2007, including the 540-acre Brown parcel, for which it paid $24.6 million.
Based on that price, the disputed land could be worth a comparable $45,000 per acre.
Mike Holloran, attorney for the Rifle Club, said the discrepancy resulting in the dispute is about 56 feet at either end of the fence line’s eastern run. Along the northern boundary the discrepancy ranges from about 65 feet on one end to 119 feet on the other end.
Holloran said adverse possession cases are relatively commonplace in Routt County and frequently arise from a casual approach taken to establishing fence lines in other eras.
The application of the law, he said, could be described as a reverse statute of limitations. If the original property owner doesn’t take action within 18 years to re-establish ownership, time runs out.
In his suit, technically a quiet title complaint, Holloran wrote:
“Plaintiff (the Rifle Club) is in possession of the property. The property was bordered by a fence ... which has been in existence for at least 60 years. Such fence was removed, without the authorization, consent or approval of plaintiff in the spring of 2007.”
In a response filed with the court, attorney Bob Weiss, representing Steamboat 700, asserts that his clients are the owners of the disputed property and asks the court to issue a decree, “holding that the plaintiffs ... have no interest or claim of any kind whatsoever in the property and forever barring and enjoining plaintiff ... from asserting any claims or title to the property.”
Rifle Club members acknowledged to the Steamboat Pilot & Today in January that for safety reasons, and with the prospect of nearby residential development on Steamboat 700, the time to find a new home for the Rifle Club has arrived. The shooting range is widely used by sports shooters, hunters sighting in their rifles and a variety of law enforcement agencies. The nearest existing alternatives are in Hayden and Yampa.
Both Holt and Mulcahy said they did not desire a lawsuit.
“We didn’t want to get into this, but we don’t want to lose that land and, all of a sudden, safety becomes the issue,” Holt said. “This isn’t a world-shaking matter, but we’re pretty much forced into doing it.”
Mulcahy said he thought amicable conversations about the fence line issue were under way but then was served with the lawsuit.
“It’s only about six acres and most of it is designated as open space in our plan. It’s not a huge issue. But they served notice without any contact,” Mulcahy said. “Obviously, I had to serve them back.”