4 June 2008: In Empire, the dream is becoming an American Nightmare

In Empire the dream is becoming an American Nightmare

I’m a Janer, so I don’t ride the lifts at Loveland Ski Area. Still, I am happy to see that wherever snow riders get on a lift, especially my friends and neighbors in Clear Creek, they are comfortable in the knowledge that they will debark safely.

It takes dedicated professionals to insure that happens, lifting human beings high into the air and safely whisking them up the mountain, often through bitter cold and biting winds. Sitting on a lift when it stops can be excruciating. So it’s more than good when they keep moving.

At Loveland, Chad Sessions is that man behind the scenes who helps keep the lifts running smoothly and safely. For 19 years Chad has been an employee, working his way up to his present professional capacity of Lift Maintenance Supervisor.

All that time, Chad has been a citizen of and our neighbor in Clear Creek County. For the past seven years, he and his wife Dianna have made Empire their home, but it won’t remain that way for long if the Town of Empire gets its way. Chad and Dianna are on their way to being homeless, courtesy of the Town, their life savings and investment gone like the melting snows on the Loveland ski trails.

The Courant ran an expose of the case on May 14, so I won’t belabor the details, but it suffices to know that a monster has been created. The Showdown at the Empire Corral is looming between the Town, headed up by Mayor Rick Sprague with his band of trusty trustees and trailer park owners Mark and Sandy Cucinella.

High Noon is August and Chad and Dianna are destined to be collateral damage.

The situation has taken on a life of its own. It began with a law-enforcement issue in a neighboring trailer that somehow morphed into an epic confrontation over the fact that Chad’s trailer, which has sat in Cucinella’s court for over 30 years, juts nine feet onto town right of way. I am still scratching my head about how the dots have connected.

According to Mayor Pro Tem Wendy Cook, the town is to develop that strip of land. When pressed for specific details, none were forthcoming, suggesting none are available. Questions arise then about the Town’s Master Plan. What is the encompassing plan that necessitates a strip of grass that has been occupied since the town’s incorporation primarily by field mice and more recently by Xcel Energy lines being vacated?

With no need to improve access for emergency vehicles, about the only benefit I can figure for displacing the field mice in the 16-foot-wide strip is a truck route for rush-hour traffic—one way, of course.

It’s tough to get answers from the town leaders. The wagons have been circled and “mum” is the word.

“The Town has no interest in opening this back up,” said Sprague. “This was a done deal a year ago.”

Mark Cucinella said that Sprague told him that he was tired of the Cucinellas making money off town land. But the Cucinellas said they have offered to lease the land.

“We pointed out that Georgetown has worked with owners to resolve such conflicts, but all Sprague said is that we’re not Georgetown.” So it would seem.

Personal experience has taught me about the inaccuracies of older survey lines and the sites of buildings and fences. In fact, it is a good bet that a good number of other Empire properties are overlapping onto town space, even some owned by town leaders. Given that, town citizens should be asking about the next phase of the plan that would force a vacation of such lands. Justice would require every property owner to be in compliance.

Sessions is tired and at a loss as to where to turn. With moving the trailer neither within nor outside of the park an option, he senses his meager portion of the American Dream vanishing into thin air.

“I have even thought of cutting the nine feet off,” he mused. Desperate times do conjure desperate measures.

“The mayor told me that the last thing we want is for someone to lose their home,” recalled Sessions.

But that is about to happen.

In our national myth, we hold to the ideal that everyone can attain the American Dream, a key element being home ownership, with hard work and perseverance. Elsewhere that might be true, but in Empire, it’s becoming the American Nightmare.

There can be a better resolution. The Town leaders need to cool their jets and work collaboratively with the Cucinellas, Sessions, and third parties such as Peggy Stokstad and Jo Ann Sorenson towards a mutually acceptable outcome.

Should that not happen, the real outcomes will be a bitterly divided community and a man and woman, who have been upstanding citizens, our neighbors, and community contributors, losing everything for which they have worked: their American Dream. That neither makes sense nor is it ethical.

Sprague feels the town has won, but it hasn’t. In this case, there will only be losers. It’s up to him and the Board of Trustees to revisit this one more time. Not only would that be true leadership, it would be the right thing to do.

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