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Park County clears out 'Flag Man's' property after long legal battle

September 13, 2017 Updated: September 14, 2017 at 11:18 am
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Steve Bedigian shouts "freedom" from his "freedom tower" on his property in the Hartsel Flats area on Thursday, November 10, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

After a monthslong legal battle, Park County has cracked down on code violations by Steve J. Bedigian, known as the "Flag Man of South Park," and cleared his property of an eclectic assembly of flags and two-by-fours.

It is among the first actions taken by county officials to enforce county code after admitted Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear Jr. put the unincoporated area near Hartsel on U.S. 24 - and its living conditions - on the map.

Many residents of the area known as Hartsel Flats live in RVs, Tuff Sheds and nylon tents without electricity, running water or septic tanks. Dear and his girlfriend moved into an RV down the road from Bedigian in 2014.

Dear is charged with 179 counts in the Nov. 27, 2015, shooting rampage at Colorado Springs' lone Planned Parenthood clinic. Three people were killed, including a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police officer, and nine were wounded. A year after the shootings, Hartsel Fire Protection District Chief Jay Hutcheson told The Gazette that the event brought the unincorporated area's "overwhelming" sanitation and safety issues to the forefront of county officials' attention.

That attention then turned toward Bedigian. In March, he was taken to court for violating a county ordinance that prohibits the accumulation of trash and "rubbish."

The jury ruled in favor of the county, saying Bedigian had to clean up the trash within 90 days. He would be charged $1,000 plus an additional $100 per day until he brought property into compliance. If he did so before the deadline, the county would waive the penalty.

Steve Bedigian shows off his property and his makeshift home in the Hartsel Flats area on Thursday, November 10, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette  

Bedigian did not meet the deadline, the county said in a press release. The county offered to clean up the property for him at no cost, but Bedigian declined the offer, arguing that the debris was "an artistic expression," the press release said. Bedigian could not be contacted.

Bedigian described his art to The Gazette in 2016 as a tribute to his late father, a Korean War veteran. The memorial consists of a flag-drapped coffin and a 12-foot "Freedom Tower."

The county described it as approximately 2 acres of tattered American flags, pallets, appliances and other items, all of which were removed Wednesday. The flags were "properly, respectfully and ceremoniously burned" by the American Legion. The remainder of the debris was disposed of at nearby landfills, and a lien will be put on Bedigian's property to cover Wednesday's operation costs.

Bedigian is living in temporary lodging provided by the county. Some of his neighbors believe the county is casting too wide of a net over the area's occupants.

Zigmond Post, who lives in a "tiny home" in the area, might be forced to leave if he does not purchase a $10,000 septic tank. The county does not consider his $3,000 compost toilet in compliance with county code.

"The county would rather see me homeless than live in my house," said Post, who has lived there for 3 1/2 years.

Post also said Dear's RV was cleared from its plot of land by the county, even though Dear's girlfriend still lived there.

The recent requests from the county are the first he has received since he moved to Hartsel.

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