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LIFE ON THE EDGE

IN QUIRKY EDGEWATER, THE CIRCUS IS ALWAYS IN TOWN.OUR TOWN IN EDGEWATER, THE JUDGE IS A CONVICTED FELON. THAT'S JUST FOR STARTERS.

The municipal judge in Edgewater is a convicted felon and former mental patient, but he's considered an improvement over his predecessor. That judge reportedly was fired because he couldn't seem to make it to court on time.

The town's police chief carries out "reverse stings," in essence importing criminals to his town in order to confiscate their property.

The former city attorney made a name for himself a couple years back with an uncommon show of loyalty to the town. Specifically, he refused to give up his post for more than five months after being asked to step down--and allegedly billed the city to write an opinion explaining why he couldn't be fired.

And the city council, which is supposed to be guiding the little town on Denver's western border into the future, is better known for engaging in embarrassing public tiffs and attempting to stave off recall elections.

With apologies to a nineteenth-century French writer, every town has the government it deserves. Which leads naturally to the question: What have Edgewater residents done to justify the system they've got?

Quarreling, crankiness and scandalous behavior are historical traditions in Edgewater. In the late 1800s saloons, gambling dens and bawdy houses sat right behind the town's boardwalk, making it a natural gathering spot for Denver's seedier elements. Do-gooders finally closed down the last saloon early in 1901, the same year residents held an election to decide whether to incorporate. "Town votes for incorporation," reads a headline from those days. "Men and women stand in the streets arguing for and against."

Fifty years later, when builders hastily slapped up small clapboard houses to meet the postwar boom, the town nearly doubled in size. There are now 4,700 residents within Edgewater's square-mile town limits, most of them elderly. By some estimates, as many as 40 percent of the residents have lived in the town for at least forty years.

The source of Edgewaterites' pride in--and attachment to--their town may not be readily apparent to visitors. In fact, the town itself isn't readily apparent. It's possible to zoom south on Sheridan Boulevard and not even notice the transition from Wheat Ridge to Edgewater to Lakewood.

Twenty-fifth Avenue, the town's main street, consists mostly of one-story brick shops that have seen better days. A push for development did bring in a string of new stores--a Cub Foods, a Builders Square and a discount department store now line up along Sheridan--but other attempts to shore up the town have met with resistance.

In 1990 the Edgewater Redevelopment Authority designated 132 acres--nearly half the town--as "blighted," in an attempt to get urban renewal funding. That came as an unpleasant shock to many residents, who claimed they hadn't heard a peep about it until long after the fact.

The majority of Edgewaterites might have remained equally ignorant of their town's latest flap had municipal judge Ben Klein not chosen to throw the book at 29-year-old Tim Young, an action that has turned a minor criminal case into a cause celebre and cast a reluctant Klein into Edgewater's version of the spotlight.

On September 17, 1993, Edgewater police officers served Young with summonses charging him with two counts of harassment. The roots of the problem, says Young, could be found in a classic Edgewater dispute that stretched back "as far as I can remember."

According to Young and his mother, Grace, who has lived in Edgewater for more than fifty years, the family had been involved in an ongoing feud with a neighbor, the repetitively named Doris Dorris. The 76-year-old Dorris keeps a close watch on the goings-on in her neighborhood and calls police with some regularity to report sightings of suspicious cars and various and sundry violations of the city code. "I have a perfect right as a citizen of Edgewater to call the police if I think they need to be called," she says loudly in a Southern accent.

Young, who lives with his 92-year-old grandmother in a house two doors down from Dorris, became a frequent target of his neighbor's complaints. Dorris called the police when his car blocked the sidewalk. "It's in the code book," Dorris says. "You shall not block the driveway. You can't cross the sidewalk if a car's in the way."

Young says Dorris had also complained to the city's code enforcement officer about his grandmother's weeds, which Dorris denies. "Why would I complain about weeds?" she asks, before adding, "But it is against the law."

Dorris does acknowledge complaining to police that she couldn't nap in the afternoons because Young was making too much noise working on his car. "He had this old piece of junk, and there was all this hammering and knocking," she says. "I need my rest. My blood pressure is sky-high, and I was following doctor's orders. I suppose they think I should just stroke out."

One day, claims Young, whose prior contact with police consisted of two drug arrests in 1985, a police officer handed him thirty summonses at once, all of them connected with working on his car in the driveway.

The Youngs then asked police chief Alan Pfeuffer to mediate a discussion between them and Dorris, which the chief agreed to do. He settled the dispute by getting Tim Young to agree to work on the car only during certain times of the day and to finish the car and remove it from his grandmother's yard within a designated period.

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