Blaine County followed through on its threat to sue a local homeowners association last week, filing a complaint in 5th District Court on Thursday afternoon aimed at restoring easy access to the Big Wood River through Flying Heart Ranch north of Hailey.
The 82-page filing seeks to settle a dispute that stretches back to early July, when neighbors posted signs banning parking along Aspen Lakes Drive, promising to tow vehicles that do. After some six weeks of back-and-forth, negotiations between the county commissioners and the association stalled last month. The board unanimously agreed to take legal action on Aug. 6.
Now, the county is asking the court to decide whether the public has the right to park in a platted county right of way along Aspen Lakes Drive, and to order the homeowners association to remove signs banning parking in the easement. It’s also seeking to recoup legal costs, plus the maximum civil penalties under Idaho’s public nuisance statute, $100 for each day the signs have been posted. They’ve been in place since June.
While Aspen Lakes Drive and the land around it are private, the public “shall have access to the roads and river,” according to a plat note written when the subdivision was established in 1979. As part of that agreement, the county maintains a 15-foot easement parallel to the east bank of the Big Wood, with two public paths to get there. And, it has access to an 80-foot right of way along the street, about 55 feet wider than the pavement itself. The complaint contends that the easement includes parking adjacent to the road.
The homeowners association says it doesn’t—and, unless the two sides settle out of court, a judge will decide.
“This private-public arrangement has worked effectively for decades, until recent actions by the Association to prohibit parking and threaten the impoundment of vehicles used by the members of the public lawfully enjoying [the easements],” the county’s filing states.
Prior to installing the signs, Flying Heart residents said rivergoers mistreated the area, littering and trespassing on private property near the Big Wood.
Initially, the homeowners suggested a dedicated parking lot at the mouth of the road by state Highway 75, around a third of a mile from the river. That wasn’t enough to appease the board—or its vocal constituents who turned out during a series of hearings to push for closer access to the river. The commissioners countered, asking for two designated parking areas immediately adjacent to the public easements laid out in Flying Heart’s 40-year-old plat. That plan fell flat, too.
Flying Heart’s attorney, Gary Slette of Robertson & Slette in Twin Falls, could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves, who filed the complaint on behalf of the county, declined to comment further on the case.