By James Steindler
The Garfield County Commissioners regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 20, took nearly six hours before all was said and done. The majority of the meeting was focused on a developer’s application for a Substantial Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment to remove an eagle nest buffer zone in Aspen Glen along the Roaring Fork River.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky recused himself after explaining that he and his wife recently purchased a property management company which services a number of properties in Aspen Glen.
The applicant, Aspen Glen Golf Company, wishes to build in the area and has been navigating the application process since the beginning of the year. In November 2020, the commissioners determined that the proposal would affect adjacent properties and the public. Therefore, the application is meant for the consideration of a substantial modification, rather than a minor one.
The eagle nest buffer zone was implemented in 1992 in order to protect a historic bald eagle nest dating back to the 1940s. According to a letter dated “May 10” from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) area wildlife manager Matt Yamashita, “The restrictions were part of the development process from 1992, and were agreed upon by the Aspen Glen Development Company, BLM [Bureau of Land Management], Garfield County, USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services] and Colorado Division of Wildlife in order to protect the nest and surrounding area from development and disturbance so that eagles could return and use the nest.”
However, CPW no longer sees the need for the buffer zone because the tree in which the historic nest was located blew over in a wind storm in 2018, effectively destroying the nest.
Roaring Fork Conservancy Executive Director Rick Lofaro in a written statement said it supported the removal of the buffer zone. However, “Should the property be developed in the future, a minimum setback and riparian buffer of 35-feet is required by Garfield County, and this setback should be upheld if not voluntarily increased by Aspen Glen.”
Davis Farrar of Western Slope Consulting, representing the Aspen Glen Golf Co., explained to the commissioners that, “There are 33 built residences adjoining the Roaring Fork River. Additionally, there are ten lots adjoining the river that are vacant that can have residential units, and likely will.” Farrar went a step further and said, “The eagles have demonstrated a tolerance to human activity as evidenced by their new nesting choice, 60 feet away from two existing homes where there are no protections in place.”
“County planning staff recommends approval of removing the eagle nest buffer zone and, importantly, the Garfield County Planning Commission also recommends approval,” Farrar concluded.
The Homeowners Association at Aspen Glen Inc. wrote in their opposition to the proposal. “We have found from various resources and owner surveys that the overwhelming majority of owners in Aspen Glen (that have expressed an opinion) are passionately opposed to the removal of the Buffer Zone,” the letter reads. The group added that, “The Board feels that this action will have an adverse effect on water, wildlife and open space conservation. After all, generations of herding elk and nesting eagles were here long before we were, and part of our responsibilities as a community living among them is to protect and provide space for them.”
Aspen Center for Environmental Studies opposes the removal of the buffer zone, as does the Roaring Fork Audubon Society. Roaring Fork Audubon Chair Marry Harris, in an email to Garfield County Senior Planner Glenn Hartmann, wrote: “Bald eagles are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act as well as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act! While taking away part of their territory is not the same as physically taking a part of a species, it can have a similar disruptive impact. Please do the right thing and keep this parcel of land in protective status.”
The commissioners set a date for a site visit of the three parcels in question on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 1 p.m. While the public is welcome to observe, there will be no opportunity for public comment. The continued public hearing was set for Monday, Oct. 11, at 1 p.m.