CANYON CITY - Corresponding through their attorneys, the Town of Canyon City and the Grant County Court have asked each other to resolve a longstanding dispute about a privacy barrier that the city wants built next to the Grant County Criminal Justice Facility.

The latest request will come from the County Court's attorney, John Junkin. As directed by a Sept. 3 motion of the County Court, Junkin will restate the county's contention that the Canyon City City Council improperly encumbered the county with an impossible permit requirement.

Following an executive session held on the basis of "litigation or litigation likely to be filed," the County Court voted 3-0 to authorize Junkin to send a letter to the Canyon City City Council urging a public hearing on the jail conditional use permit.

The saga of this conditional use permit reaches back to the preconstruction planning of the county's criminal justice facility. In 1995, Grant County voters approved construction of the jail by a vote of 1,458-1,274. Prior to that vote, in July 1995, the Canyon City Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit to allow construction of the criminal justice facility next to the court-house in Canyon City. The permit and the bond vote for the jail both sparked heated opposition. Opponents included Canyon City homeowners John and Pat Johnston, whose house sits directly south of the jail.

The conditional use permit later was upheld on appeal by the full Canyon City City Council. A Jail Study Committee member signed the permit. The permit states: "A privacy barrier such as shrubbery or a fence shall be placed on the south side between the parking area and the Johnstons' that is adequate and agreeable to them."

Junkin wrote in one of his letters to the city that "the above condition effectively delegated to private property owners, the Johnstons, the determination as to what was an appropriate privacy barrier for purposes of approving the conditional use. Although the neighboring property owner certainly may have an opinion as to any privacy barrier between their property and neighboring property, the city's condition constituted an improper delegation of authority to a private party and as such is void and unenforceable."

In early May, the Grant County Court agreed to pay $20,000 to the Johnstons in return for their signature on a settlement agreement to void this condition. The Johnstons declined to sign, citing concerns over loss of property rights in what they considered to be an overly broad settlement agreement.

Prior to the failed settlement attempt, the County Court twice bid out the job of building the privacy barrier. The cost was estimated most recently at $29,000. A $34,361 jail construction bond fund was targeted to help defray this cost. But, nudged by leaders from Canyon City, the County Court opted to offer its $20,000 settlement agreement instead of building the wall, thereby hoping to save $9,000.

An amended order from Canyon City pressed for the settlement. The amended order stipulated that the county either construct the barrier as planned or reach a financial settlement "acceptable to both parties."

Following the collapse of settlement talks, the Canyon City City Council on Aug. 20 sent a letter to the Grant County Court, signed by city recorder/manager Tammy Bremner, alerting the County Court that the council had "voted unanimously to insist that you follow the requirements of the Amended Order (dated April 8, 2003) for the conditional use issued for the construction of the jail."

The letter also cautioned the county that the existing plans for the Johnston fence violated the city zoning ordinance because the proposed wall exceeded a 6-foot maximum fence height in city regulations. The wall, at 8 feet and 8 inches high, would require a variance, Bremner warned the county. "The council cannot guarantee the approval of the variance," she added.

The County Court's forthcoming reply is expected to protest the "impossible position the county finds itself in," as Grant County Judge Dennis Reynolds stated on Sept. 3. He said the county faces a catch-22 by being ordered to build a fence but also receiving notice that the mandated fence might not gain required approval through a variance from the city planning commission.

According to the Sept. 3 motion of the County Court, Junkin will urge Canyon City to conduct a public hearing "to resolve the issue at hand," namely what the county considers to be an "improper delegation of authority" in the city's conditional use permit. The letter also will ask the city to draft a modified permit that the county could support in an appeal.

City officials want the county to build the barrier. Negotiated plans developed by Pinnacle Architecture and accepted by the Johnstons and the county envision a wall, with designs for interlocking gates and stonework, stretching 209 feet long between the jail parking lot and the Johnstons' property. However, it appears that the County Court has reservations about investing $29,000 in a privacy barrier.

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