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Rossie Hill, present day.

Set a bit off Deer Valley Drive, on an area known as Rossie Hill, is a row of mining-era shacks dating to the 1890s. Every day hundreds of Deer Valley–bound skiers drive by these seemingly forgotten, ramshackle dwellings, now dwarfed by towering condos and townhomes.

Rossie Hill’s nearly three acres of land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, but families who lived in the homes there have historical claims based on what are essentially squatters’ rights. The Dennis family, owners of the three most visible shacks, have filed a Color of Title claim—an arcane bit of law that petitions the BLM to grant them the land based on historical occupation, which Richard Dennis says he has clearly demonstrated. “I was born in the middle one, my mother and grandmother lived in the other to the right, and the other one was my uncle’s,” Dennis says. 

Early in 2016, the BLM approved a Color of Title claim on a third-of-an-acre lot adjacent to the Dennis homes for another owner who, in turn, sold the property to local developer Matt Mullin. Soon after the sale, a group of neighbors formed Save Rossie Hill Historic Open Space and submitted a 300-signature petition to City Council in hopes that they would consider additional development restrictions on the land due to its historic status. In October, the City approved Mullin’s application to subdivide the lot with the caveat that any future construction there must adhere to Historic District Guidelines and that 40 percent remain open space.

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Rossie Hill, circa mid-1940s

But Jeff Camp, part of the Save Rossie Hill group, isn’t satisfied. “This sets a bad precedent for when the BLM decides to release the land to the other homeowners there,” Camp says. For his family’s part, Dennis says he would like to see the land subject to his claim remain open space and the shacks preserved. “I have sentimental attachment about the thing,” he says, “but, at age 84, I’m not getting any younger, and the BLM hasn’t been moving too fast on this.”

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