Garfield County commissioners on Monday determined that a request by Colorado Rocky Mountain School outside Carbondale to vacate a historic county road easement that runs through the campus, in exchange for a new foot and bicycle path around the campus, meets the objectives of the county’s comprehensive plan goals.
But the 2-1 vote by the commissioners, with Commissioner John Martin dissenting, just leaves the door open to consider the larger, potentially more loaded question of whether to actually give up the right of way.
It’s a decision that could have bearing on “hundreds” of road easements that criss-cross private agricultural lands and even public lands throughout the county, Martin said.
“This is a bigger issue than just CRMS,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t inhibit movement, and once you relinquish these roads it is extremely hard to get them back.”
The private boarding school maintains that allowing public access through its campus poses a student safety and security concern, and puts the school at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting students.
Commissioner Mike Samson said he, too, has reservations about vacating a county road, even though the 1,223-foot segment of County Road 106 that splits the CRMS campus has been closed to vehicle traffic for 35 years.
“Once that’s gone, it’s gone and the precedent is set,” Samson said.
Samson did agree to go along with the fellow Commissioner Tom Jankovsky in taking the first of two steps to more fully weigh the request, signing off on what’s called a “location and extent” review.
The move essentially says the proposal meets the county’s goals and objectives related to things like pedestrian connectivity and preserving agricultural lands in the county. The CRMS property includes several hay fields that are actively maintained.
A public hearing on the actual road vacation request was continued until June 16, partly to allow the county to further research the legal description of the road easement.
In February, the county planning commission recommended against CRMS’ request to vacate the road easement.
The road was closed to vehicle traffic in 1979 when CRMS agreed to donate part of its land for the construction of Dolores Way, which now serves as the main link between the town of Carbondale and Highway 133, and the rural community of Satank located just north of the school campus.
CRMS proposes to replace the road easement, which connects to County Road 108 south of the campus and then to Carbondale’s West Main Street, with a paved connection to an existing bike and pedestrian path along Dolores Way. That would then connect to a planned new bike path along the west side of Highway 133 heading into Carbondale.
Satank-area residents and others who use the CRMS access have objected to giving up the road easement, saying it provides a more preferable, safer route as opposed to a path along a busy state highway.
The proposed alternative route “really isn’t acceptable,” said Carbondale resident Sue Edelstein. “It’s an urban route with traffic and fumes, and is not a substitution for what’s now a very pleasant rural route.”
She said trespassing concerns could be addressed through signs designating where the public path is through the campus, and suggested that “more people on the trail would actually provide more safety.”
But CRMS representatives said the presence of the public easement makes it difficult to control access onto and off the campus, and prevents the school from removing someone who could pose a risk to students.
School campus safety consultant Harry Rhulon said it’s best to be proactive in protecting students rather than waiting for an incident to occur and reacting.
“We often get called in when there has been a school shooting or some other type of situation,” he said, adding that anything done to prevent a problem is advisable.
“And we know that the physical safety of everyone on campus would be improved by limiting access to the campus,” Rhulon said.
Several parents of current and past CRMS students also spoke in favor of the school’s request.
“As a parent, you don’t want something to go wrong at your child’s school, and if something were to happen it would be catastrophic to the school’s reputation,” said Cindy Jenkins, a Satank resident who has a student at CRMS.
“The request to control access is reasonable,” she said, adding that, as a resident of the area, too, the alternative path is preferable.