The Blaine County commissioners are taking legal action to reopen access to the Big Wood River north of Hailey after landowners in Flying Heart Ranch ignored a staff letter to remove “No parking” signs from a platted right of way on Aspen Lakes Drive.
On Tuesday, the board announced plans to sue the homeowners association for illegally restricting public access by leaving the signs up past the county’s July 8 deadline.
Homeowners Association President Tom Mistick told the Idaho Mountain Express on Monday night that the group didn’t intend to take down the signs, which threaten to boot or tow cars parked along the road.
“Private Property,” the white signs at either end of the street say. “Aspen Lakes Drive is a private road. All parking is prohibited. No parking to access river.”
County Code Compliance Specialist Kristine Hilt says that’s not true.
On July 1, Hilt wrote Mistick asking that the Homeowners Association remove the signs, which “falsely claim that public parking is prohibited.”
“Historically, we have had conversations with property owners in this subdivision regarding public access, and the county’s position has always been consistent,” Hilt told the Express on Monday.
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 itself, Hilt said.
“The public shall have access to the entire right of way,” she wrote in the July 1 letter. “Public access includes parking.”
The letter set the Monday deadline for removing the signs, and offered to work with the Homeowners Association “to post signs that comply with the plat and encourage the public to park within the designated right of way.”
But with the signs still standing—and no solutions sought—the commissioners opted for a more aggressive approach. Following an executive session to meet with legal counsel, Commissioner Angenie McCleary moved to push the issue to the courts, and Jacob Greenberg agreed. (Commissioner Dick Fosbury was absent.)
“As far as I’m concerned, if the point [of the plat] is to provide access to the river, it has to include parking,” McCleary told the Idaho Mountain Express on Monday. “That’s a really important area for the public. It’s important that we maintain access to it.
“People are not pleased.”
Recently, a teenager returning to Flying Heart after kayaking a stretch of the Big Wood saw his father’s car heading the other way on the back of a truck. He paid out of pocket to get the car from impound, the boy’s father, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson, told the Idaho Mountain Express.
“He parked where we normally park,” said Nelson, who said he has used the access several nights a week during summer months for more than 20 years. “I just think it’s pretty unfortunate that the HOA has taken this approach. Impounding a 16-year-old’s car—that’s really not a neighborly act.
“In this valley, we probably have over 20 of the accesses set out as part of the subdivision process. The county has made an effort. My concern, as a private citizen, is that these access points are maintained, and that the legal process is followed. I think the county and the public have a strong responsibility to respond.”
Flying Heart Ranch Homeowners Association attorney Gary Slette could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday.
Forty years ago today, serving as Blaine County land use administrator, Slette signed the Flying Heart Ranch plat agreement, which is now under fire.
Established in 1979, the posh subdivision is perhaps best known for lush groves and lux homes. Actress Demi Moore owns four lots in the area. And last October, her ex-husband Bruce Willis sold his 8,400-square-foot home for a reported $5.5 million—a record for the Hailey area, according to the agent representing the buyer.
For residents of nearby Hailey, it’s also one of the easiest places to reach the Big Wood.
The commissioners have re-ceived letters and emails objecting to the Aspen Lakes signs, and Land Use staff has visited the site, according to Commissioner Jacob Greenberg.
Prior to the decision, Hailey resident Clark Shafer told the commissioners that he applauded their stance on public access.
“I value private property—I respect private property—but I also value access to the river corridor,” he said. “I want to see the commissioners respect the initial plat, whenever this issue comes up.”
Most public comment that the commissioners received echoed that sentiment, Greenberg said.
“We tend to agree,” he said, “And we’ll follow through.”