The land that time forgot
Literal no-man's land holds up trail project
December 20, 2008
Craig — Completion of the city hike and bike trail from the Ridgeview subdivision to Sunset Elementary School has hit an unforeseen snag.
Although the project’s grant funding originally was approved by state and federal agencies in 2003, the trail section between Finley Lane and Sunset Elementary School remains unfinished.
Not for lack of trying, said Dave Pike, city Parks and Recreation director, but because there is a roughly 905-foot-long section of ground with no known owner.
Before the Colorado Department of Transportation will release federal grant dollars, it wants to see documented proof that the city owns the land or has an established easement, Pike said.
“Without the grant money, we can’t do anything,” City Manager Jim Ferree said. “We would probably go ahead with the project if we had the money.”
City Attorney Kenny Wohl said he has never seen a situation where ownership couldn’t be traced back somewhere.
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After looking through city and county records and hiring a title company and surveyor, though, there still is not an answer.
“We may have to go back to the original patent,” Wohl said, referring to when the federal government owned the land before it was given out as a homestead.
The ground in question lays nestled between Crest Drive and Sixth Street to the north and south, and Finley Lane and Ledford Street to the west and east. On one side is a row of backyards and on the other a row of apartment complexes.
County and city records show property lines for the surrounding owners end with a big white space in the middle. It’s even included in the city zoning map hanging in the Moffat County Assessor’s Office and in the City Council chambers.
There also is no recorded easement on the property, Wohl said, though city records refer to an easement being in place.
Wohl, Pike and Ferree agreed it was odd no one seems to have brought this up before.
There are a few ways the city could proceed, Wohl said.
With a quiet title action, the city would create a deed of ownership to the land, but that requires documentation from a previous owner to transfer the title, Wohl said.
Condemnation – where the city essentially asserts eminent domain – could be possible, but also is difficult without a second party to seize the land from, Wohl said. As well, that could take another six months to process, and time already has been stretched for this project.
Wohl said the best solution may be for the city to claim ownership through adverse possession, in which case a court would grant ownership because the city has used and maintained the property for more than 18 years through various easements associated with the Craig Ditch and other utilities.
Or, the city may go to each property owner in the area and ask him or her to sign a quitclaim deed, which states they will not seek ownership rights for the land at any time in the future.
Ferree said he would have to check with CDOT to see whether that would be enough to release the funds.
Soon isn’t soon enough, but he’ll take it, Pike said.
“I’m hoping we can get started on it soon and get it done,” he said. “We want to get it done; we just want to get it done right.”