Grand Lake seeks to address encroachment issue with land sale

Grand Lake trustees discussed an appraisal of the land on which the Heckendorf cabin encroaches for a potential sale to the family. The city is moving forward with a $10,000 prize.
Grand Lake Agenda/Courtesy Photo

Grand Lake plans to sell a small plot of land to a local family in a bid to settle 65 years of disputes.

The talks center on a cabin, known as the Heckendorf cabin, which was built on 0.075 acres of a city-owned right-of-way in 1955 with permission from the city. The Heckendorfs asked the city to vacate the right-of-way in 2008, beginning a series of conversations regarding how best to manage the land.

After considering a number of options, city staff were tasked last year with getting the land appraised so it could be sold to the Heckendorfs. However, staff were unable to obtain an appraisal as the land cannot be developed and is not currently zoned.

On Monday, Grand Lake board members took on the unusual challenge of trying to appraise the land without an appraisal, for a price of $10,000.

“Truly, selling land is the only solution,” City Manager John Crone said. “(The earth) is simply incomparable. There is nothing to compare.”

Kristen Heckendorf explained that the family wants to own the land to fully insure it. the easement and the Heckendorfs not owning the land made it difficult for the family to fully insure the cabin.

“I can get a fraction of what I need to cover just the cabin itself,” she said.

The situation is further complicated by an encroachment easement the city approved for the cabin in 2011, which includes a 45-day repeal provision. The easement allows the Heckendorfs to block the sale of the property to another person as they are entitled to the land unless the city takes it for public use.

Trustee Cindy Southway was hesitant to offer a figure for the sale without an appraisal, adding that she was unsure of the sale in general.

“I know that I, myself, am not even qualified to guess what the value of the property would be and I don’t really know if the council is,” Southway said.

Southway suggested leaving the right-of-way, considering a land swap or auctioning the land.

Freeing the right-of-way would result in the land being awarded to a property neighboring the Heckendorf cabin and Crone said the Heckendorfs could block the vacation due to the terms of the easement. An auction is also not possible for the same reason.

“Technically, the Heckendorfs could block the sale of the property to another family,” Crone said.

Crone noted that the sale could include city provisions on how the land could be used in order to protect that parcel from development and prevent the cabin from expanding.

“We could always put in the sales contract that no new development can occur on this part of the lot,” he said.

Trustee Michael Arnston suggested $6 per square foot, which would equate to about $22,000 for the land. Arnston based his suggestions on information from Zillow, but other administrators felt the price was too high for unusable land.

The Heckendorfs have also paid for the city’s liability insurance and the property’s water faucet since they purchased the property in 1957.

In the end, the board voted 5 to 2 to ask the staff to move forward with creating a sales contract with the Heckendorfs for $10,000. Directors Southway and Tom Bruton voted against the motion.

The sale would not completely resolve the issues with the land, as the city would still need to rezone the plot through the planning commission and register an Xcel easement. Staff also check whether the land has ever been used for government purposes and whether the valuation is appropriate.

If the land was used for government purposes, the sale of the land would have to be approved by the voters.

In other cases:

• Trustees approved an annual contract for City Manager John Crone with an increase to $116,000 in a 5-2 vote. Trustees Cindy Southway and Tom Bruton voted against the contract. Previously, Crone received $92,000.

• A contract with the Grand Lake Chamber has been approved, along with a liquor license for the chamber’s next pond hockey tournament on February 26th.

• Trustees approved an agreement with the Grand Lake Fire Department allowing the town to clear snow from the fire department while protecting both parties from liability for damages.