This Land is Your Land. No. This Land is My Land.
At noon Sunday a protest picnic that attracted about 200 people was held on two undeveloped lots owned by Boulder residents Don and Susie Kirlin. These are not just two ordinary lots. They are prime real estate, sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac at the very edge of the city’s western perimeter, and they command an extraordinary close-up view of Boulder’s most visible natural landmarks, the Flatirons.
The protests were directed toward two neighbors who live next door to the undeveloped property. A Nov. 4 Daily Camera columnist told the story of how a judge awarded the pair one third of one of the two lots through a little-known legal principle called adverse possession.
Like most people, including, apparently, the Kirlins, I knew nothing of adverse possession until I read the column. The neighbors, one a former Boulder mayor and District Court judge, Richard McLean, and his wife, Edith Stevens, filed the claim. McLean and Stevens openly admit they trespassed, built a walking path from their front to their back yard, stored a woodpile and hosted summer get-togethers on the property for the two decades the Kirlins have owned it. Had they asked for permission to do this, they couldn’t claim adverse possession.
According to adverse possession, if the owner of the property doesn’t legally object to the intrusion, the trespassers, after 18 years in Colorado, have the legal right to contest the property in court. That’s exactly what McLean and Stevens, who is also a lawyer, did. Their arguments persuaded Judge James Klein to award the couple about one third of the Kirlin lot adjacent to McLean and Stevens’ property.
The decision derails plans the Kirlins have to build a house on that lot. A look at the properties on Google Earth shows clearly that a house built on the Kirlin lot would obliterate the view of the Flatirons McLean and Stevens have enjoyed for 25 years and give that view instead to the Kirlins.
That’s about all we really know. Still, in Boulder, where self-righteousness flows like honey (or in this case, like bile), reaction against McLean and Stevens has been swift, hostile and contemptuous. Dozens of letter writers and commentators have ridiculed and derided McLean and Stevens for what they see as an obvious land grab. Residents at the protest walked up to McLean and Stevens’ Prius as they drove off and yelled “shame on you” in front of the cameras, while a folksinger improvised a protest song.
Though there is no evidence yet, critics have also zeroed in on the legal insider overtones. The Kirlins have been overwhelmed with support, legal and financial, to appeal the case, which seems a certainty at this point. Only one letter has been printed in support of McLean and Stevens. A local state legislator, Claire Levy, accepted Stevens’ resignation as campaign treasurer last week as she was urged by some constituents to publicly divorce herself from Stevens.
The Camera’s opinion writer, Clint Talbott, reminded critics to wait until the facts are in and took them to task for their extremism in a column. “One needn’t excuse roguish behavior to urge zealous critics to take a deep breath,” he wrote. “Even if it were proved beyond all doubt that these cases were simple matters of purity’s being vanquished by villainy (a condition by no means met), the critics’ extreme reaction discredits their cause.”
That has only brought another round of vitriol. Today’s Camera, for goodness sakes, included a letter to Talbott that quoted Barry Goldwater’s 1964 acceptance speech: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice … moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” At least it was quoted correctly.
McLean and Stevens are well-known local Democrats; the columnist who outed them, Bob Greenlee, is a former Republican candidate for U.S. senator who loves to goad liberals. For his part, Greenlee admitted he was wrong to suggest in his first column there was a “progressive” element to the plaintiffs’ actions in a column Sunday.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered. The Kirlins, who live nearby and walk past the properties regularly, say they have never met McLean and Stevens and have never noticed the path to which McLean and Stevens admit building. How could they miss the woodpile? They say that the path doesn’t show up on old photographs, and some neighbors claim the path only appeared at the time McLean and Stevens filed their claim.
On camera, the Kirlins seem much like the rest of us, baffled at the law that allowed this. For their part, McLean and Stevens, at least so far, have done themselves no favors. Stevens told the Daily Camera, quite accurately, I might add, that the Kirlins “lost the case, and they are disgruntled litigants.” McLean’s only comment has been, “Signs don’t bother us. They’re just talk.”
McLean and Stevens have gone back to court to amend the original claim and add a small strip of land because the current demarcation line is in the middle of the path they built. And they are asking that the Kirlins pay their legal fees. The Kirlins plan to appeal the original ruling, and disgruntled citizens have indicated they might file an ethics complaint with the state.
McLean and Stevens told 9NEWS they planned to release a statement sometime soon. Beyond that, there won’t be any answers until this winds through the court system.