Land dispute hinders Dog Park parking
Adjacent landowners, city in feud over ownership of parcel slated for parking lot

Jackie McManus and her dog, Maisie, play stick in the cool waters of the Animas River on Monday afternoon at the Durango Dog Park. The city is involved in a land dispute over a parking area about 75 yards to the west of the park’s entrance. The city may end up taking the case to court./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

A property dispute over a parking area west of the Durango Dog Park has the City of Durango embroiled in a legal scuffle and may mean residents will still have to hoof it more than a half mile to access the leash-free area.

A city-owned piece of land about 75 yards to the west of the park's entrance was slated as a permanent parking area for the Dog Park. However, the owners of adjacent private property as well two mobile homes that are allegedly squatting on the city-owned land have contested the city's claim to the land, saying the land is theirs via the theory of adverse possession.

"Basically, they're squatters, for lack of a better word," said Cathy Metz, the director of the Durango Parks and Recreation Department.

Adverse possession is the taking of title to real estate by possessing it for a certain period of time. The person claiming title by adverse possession must have "open, notorious, exclusive and adverse" possession to the land in order to put others on notice as to his or her claim, according to Colorado state law. In Colorado, the statutory period for adverse possession is 18 years.

"They think they own it, but we do," said Greg Caton, assistant to the city manager. "That's right where we need to have the parking lot."

The City of Durango, which claims ownership to this piece of land and was planning to use it for a parking area for the Dog Park, is involved in a dispute with the owners of an adjacent piece of land. The landowners, who have two mobile homes on the city land, are claiming adverse possession. Buckets were placed at the entrance by one of the mobile home residents to discourage users of the off-leash area from parking there. /Photo by Todd Newcomer.

The 5-acre Dog Park is located on the west side of the Animas River on the former Smelter site and was approved by the City Council last August after a group of residents, now called Durango Dog Park Inc., joined together to secure an area for their canine companions to roam freely. The park officially opened for business last December but has been beset with parking woes ever since.

When the park first opened, visitors were instructed to park along the wider pull-outs on Roosa Avenue or in Schneider Park, while the city hammered out the details of the permanent parking area. However, park users unwilling to make the trek instead parked along the Colorado Department of Transportation right of way on U.S. Highway 160 and on CDOT property at the corner of Roosa Avenue and Highway 160. Last spring, over safety concerns, CDOT put a stop to this by erecting concrete barriers, chains and "no parking" signs, leaving park patrons once again grumbling over the walk to the Dog Park.

"What was happening was people were parking along the CDOT right of way, and CDOT was not fond of that," said Metz.

Metz said she recognizes that the current parking situation is not ideal and there is a need for a parking area that is closer to the Dog Park.

"It's not really convenient to get to, you have to walk a fair distance to get there, it's not as convenient as we'd like it to be," she said.

Metz said original plans called for a permanent lot on the now-disputed parcel of city land. However, visitors to the Dog Park who have parked on the city land have been greeted with buckets blocking off the entrance as well as an occasional disgruntled resident of one of the mobile homes.

"We really need to get people off the CDOT right of way and into the property and therein lies the problem," said Metz. "(The mobile home residents) don't want people coming up close to their homes."

Durango Dog Park Board President Susie Bonds said her group was aware there would be parking issues from the beginning but decided it was a sacrifice worth making in order to obtain the land.

"We knew parking was going to be a problem, but we wanted to claim the land," she said. "We were willing to deal with the parking problem for a year 4 rather than lose it."

Bonds said the city told the group it would take about a year to straighten out the parking situation.

"Initially, we were told it would take a year or so to have the parking," she said.

However, Caton and Metz said it's looking like the matter may take longer to resolve.

"It's an issue we need to resolve, but it could take some time," said Caton. "We're just trying to be amicable."

Metz said the city has been trying to negotiate with the landowner since the city discovered it owned the land a few years ago during an inventory of lands prior to annexing the Highway 160 corridor.

"That's when we discovered it, a couple of years ago," she said. "We've been in discussions with the landowner since that time."

According to the La Plata Assessor's Office, the land and the mobile homes are owned by the Tozer family, of Durango. At least one of the mobile homes is a rental. The Tozers did not return a phone call seeking comment on Tuesday.

Metz said the dispute may ultimately wind up in court.

"It's in the city attorney's hands," she said. "We're probably going to have to go to court. It looks like we'll have to file action and remove them from the site."

Durango city attorney David Smith did not return phone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

Caton said until the problem is resolved, it would be best for people to steer clear of the disputed parking area.

"We're obviously not encouraging anyone to park over there until we get this worked out," he said.

Metz added, "The (mobile home residents) definitely have made it known they don't want people parking there."

Despite the parking headaches, Bonds said visitation to the Dog Park has not suffered.

"I feel like people are going there," she said. "My greeters keep calling me telling me we need more poop bags."

And in the meantime, she reiterated the request for people to adhere to the old parking rules.

"What is preferred is that people park along Roosa Avenue along the wide areas or at Schneider Park and walk up, using the Highway 160 Bridge underpass," she said. "We need to make sure dogs and people are safe." •






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