Sopris Sun Staff Report
Members of the Garfield County Planning Commission were up late on Feb. 12, when a public hearing on Colorado Rocky Mountain School’s application for vacation of a county right-of-way through the school’s campus lasted over five hours, wrapping up just past midnight. The room was packed and more than 50 people offered input, split roughly evenly between proponents and opponents of the request.
The eventual “no” vote of 5-2 to recommend denying the “Location and Extent” (L&E) portion of the request and 5-2 recommending denial of the “Vacation” portion of the request came after a somewhat heated late-night discussion between members of the commission.
One of the two commission members siding with Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Greg McKennis, was adamant that the school is a multi-million dollar business that should be able to control public access to its grounds, while those voting to deny the application argued, among other things, that the school has not offered something of equal value in exchange for the public right-of-way nor made adequate efforts to engage its neighbors in coming up with an acceptable alternative pedestrian/bicycle route.
Concerns about emergency access to the Satank neighborhood north of the private school, and residences and businesses along Dolores Way, were also raised. The referral letter from the town of Carbondale to Garfield County, which asks for denial of the vacation unless certain conditions are met by the school, was referenced several times during the discussion.
The public hearing opened with a presentation by Garfield County Senior Planner Glenn Hartmann providing context and background for the school’s request. Central to the planning commission’s consideration was whether the vacation of the right-of-way would conform with the county’s comprehensive plan, as well as the Carbondale comprehensive plan it references. Maps, photos and diagrams from Hartmann’s presentation and a presentation by CRMS Finance Director Joe White depicted the current pedestrian and bicycle access through the campus and the school’s proposed alternate route along Dolores Way, and connections with the planned future paved trail along the west side of Highway 133.
All but two of the individuals who spoke in support of CRMS were current or former CRMS board members, current or past parents, or current school employees. They argued that student recruitment – and by extension its financial health — is jeopardized by the current right-of-way situation because it threatens student safety. However, in testimony supporting the vacation request, the former chair of the CRMS Board of Trustees stated that the school’s financial health has never been stronger. This caused commission member Greg Shaner to question how those two arguments line up. He was joined in his “no” vote by Stephen Damm, Sean Martin, Bob Fullerton and Eric Rudd. Joining McKennis in voting “yes” was Keith Lammey.
Most of the input advocating for denial of the application came from the school’s neighbors in Satank and on Dolores Way, with at least one former CRMS parent questioning the school’s safety argument.
Residents of River Valley Ranch added their voices in opposition, arguing that all the Carbondale neighborhoods west of Highway 133 could be affected if this right-of-way is vacated, because it provides the safest non-motorized route for adults and children from those areas to the Carbondale Community School and the Rio Grande Trail heading toward Glenwood Springs. The commissioners also received numerous letters in advance of the meeting. These are part of the public record and are available online at www.garfield-county.com.
The day after the hearing, Garfield County received notice from CRMS that the school is planning to appeal the planning commission’s denial of the L&E request to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at a date not yet determined. Both the appeal and the road vacate request would be heard, in that order, in front of the BOCC.
According to a Feb. 13 e-mail from Garfield County Planning Manager Tamra Allen, “It is my understanding that if the BOCC upholds the L&E disapproval, the road vacate will not be considered. However, if the BOCC chooses to overturn the L&E disapproval, the road vacate request can then be heard and considered by the BOCC.”
The county will be working with CRMS to set a hearing date, which will likely be scheduled for sometime in April.