Absent the actual nest, Aspen Glen seeks to have bald eagle protections removed
A bald eagle nest along the Roaring Fork River at Aspen Glen that every few years dating back several decades would be home to new eaglets is no longer.
Thus, special protections for the area may soon be, as well — unless a group of homeowners can make their case otherwise.
The Aspen Glen Golf Co. is seeking to remove the special Eagle Nest Buffer Zone that has accompanied the gated golf course and residential community near Carbondale since it was first approved by Garfield County in 1992.
The buffer zone that was established along either side of the river has prevented development of three platted and zoned residential parcels within the Aspen Glen planned unit development (PUD).
In years when the nest was active, golf play was also prohibited on part of the golf course near the nest.
Since the nest no longer exists, Aspen Glen would now like to see those lots developed.
County commissioners on Monday are being asked to determine whether the request to remove the protective buffer should go through a simpler Minor Modification staff-level review under the county’s land-use code, or the more-extensive Substantial Modification.
The latter would require noticing of a formal public review process and hearings to be scheduled in the future. In either case, the final decision would rest with the Board of County Commissioners.
The matter of making that determination is up as the final item on the commissioners’ rolling agenda Monday morning. The regular BOCC meeting begins at 8 a.m.
Prompting the move, in part, is the fact that the once 60-foot-tall ponderosa pine tree where the eagles nest had long been situated toppled over in a storm two years ago, destroying the nest.
The lopped-off tree now stands only about 15-feet high, and the bald eagles that frequent the area have established a new nesting site upstream, in a part of Aspen Glen that’s already developed, noted Randy Hampton, spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
The buffer zone was a condition of approval recommended by Parks and Wildlife (formerly the Colorado Division of Wildlife) in 1992 as a means to protect the active nesting site.
Provisions of the PUD approved at the time held that, if wildlife experts in the future determine that the buffer zone is no longer warranted, Aspen Glen could apply to have it removed.
“At this point in time, it appears that the conditions have certainly changed in regards to the reason for the buffer,” Hampton said in a recent interview, before the formal request was made of the county.
Since then, Aspen Glen says it received word from local CPW Officer John Groves in an email, stating that, “…since the eagle nest and tree no longer exist, the Eagle Protection zone at Aspen Glen is no longer needed.”
However, a contingent of adjacent Aspen Glen property owners says the buffer zone should remain for general habitat protection.
Their legal counsel is none other than Ken Salazar, Colorado’s Democratic former U.S. Senator from 2005-09 and the state’s Attorney General before that, who went on to serve as Interior Secretary under President Obama from 2009-13.
Salazar now works for the Denver office of the national law firm WilmerHale.
In a recent letter to the county commissioners, and to CPW Northwest Region Manager JT Romatzke, Salazar makes a case for keeping the protections in place.
“This land was set aside nearly 30 years ago as a ’buffer zone’ with the express purpose of protecting these iconic birds in their environment,” he wrote on behalf of client Roy Spence and other Aspen Glen homeowners, including Mary and Courtney Spence, Mark and Lindsay Gould and Andy Kwitkowski.
“… Bald eagles have been present in the Aspen Glen area since at least 1940,” Salazar continues, noting the presence of the active nest up until 2018 when the tree was damaged.
“… Yet, the eagles continue to frequent the area, perching in trees on and near the property and fishing in the Roaring Fork below. The possibility that the eagles will build a new nest on the property (if left undisturbed) cannot be ruled out.
“In fact, due to the territorial nature of the eagles there is a strong possibility that this area will again become the home of a nest, in addition to being general habitat for the birds.”
On the other hand, disruption of the area through development could prevent that from happening and significantly change where the birds hunt and fish, Salazar wrote.
The Aspen Glen company, through its attorneys David McConaughy and Haley Carmer of the Glenwood Springs law firm Garfield & Hecht, said the request is consistent with the original intent of the PUD approvals.
The PUD “specifically acknowledges and anticipates that the buffer zone may be removed if approved by the (CPW) and the BOCC,” they write in an Oct. 30 letter requesting consideration by the county.
“The PUD amendment will not allow any of the three parcels to be more intensively developed or developed in a different manner than what is already allowed in the underlying zone districts,” their letter states.
County planning staff noted that one of the criteria established for removing the buffer zone could warrant the more-extensive public review process.
It states that removal of the buffer zone should “not affect, in a substantially adverse manner, either the enjoyment of the land abutting upon or across the road from the PUD, or the public interest.”
“Staff has identified this criteria as a key consideration,” according to a memo before the commissioners for Monday’s meeting. “The PUD amendment will likely have some effect on abutting or adjacent properties, and the public interest associated with protection of wildlife habitat.”
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