Ambiguous permit language hinders some Cedar Ridge Ranch compliance concerns

A 2018 Garfield County resolution permitting the Cedar Ridge Ranch near Carbondale to operate as an agritourism guest ranch could have been better worded, county commissioners admit.

Especially as it relates to the stated intent to limit overnight lodging to a seasonal operation, the language could have been more clear, Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said during yet another discussion Monday of ongoing complaints about permit violations at the ranch.

As for past complaints from neighbors of the operation, though, those have been investigated by county code enforcement and addressed, and the ranch is deemed to be in compliance.

Commissioners passed a new resolution Monday stating that all past complaints have been rectified and that county staff time will no longer be spent on those particular issues.

New complaints as of June 14 are to go through the proper channels as they relate to the county’s land-use permit, or the appropriate regulatory agency if it has to do with wildfire concerns, water, wildlife or criminal complaints, the county’s resolution states.

“I agree there are some gray areas in the (2018) resolution,” Jankovsky said during the regular Monday commissioners meeting of language that limited overnight use of tents and yurts to the “warm months,” rather than specific months of operation. 

“I would rather see it stated as months of operation,” Jankovsky said, adding that it does leave things open to interpretation and inevitable disputes.

In any case, what was approved in 2018 is what the county is obligated to enforce, he said.

One violation complaint that was investigated and corrected, according to county officials, had to do with the use of space heaters in tents, which is not allowed.

Without heaters, the ranch couldn’t rent out the tents in the winter, county Community Development Director Sheryl Bower said. 

“As soon as they put a heater in (the tents), they are not in compliance,” she said. 

Permit provisions also do not require that tents be taken down during the winter, Bower said.

Any nonagricultural use of the barn, such as additional commercial or lodging space, are also not allowed, she said. And only private parties or gatherings are allowed, not catered special events, which require separate permitting, Bower said.

Among the neighboring property owners who have levied some of the ongoing complaints against Cedar Ridge Ranch owners Pam and Randy Johnson and daughter Merrill Johnson are acclaimed mountaineer Pete Athans and his filmmaker wife, Liesl Clark, who have said they hope to one day relocate to the area but now rent out the house as a vacation property. 

Athans reiterated his and other neighbors’ concerns that, while violations are investigated and corrected, the same violations are allegedly repeated. 

“Does it not concern you that this repeated offense has happened again?” he asked the commissioners with regards to the alleged use of space heaters, which neighbors worry is a fire danger, and use of the barn for questionable activities.

Jankovsky admitted he is concerned about repeat violations once county code enforcement has come and gone. But any new complaints still need to go through the proper channels, he and the other commissioners said.

The Johnsons have maintained that every violation noted by the county has been addressed, and that they are operating in accordance with their permits.

Commissioner Mike Samson said he worries that’s not the case but said there’s only so much the county can do in the way of enforcement.

“I don’t believe the Johnsons are squeaky clean on this,” Samson said. “I think there have been violations, and it has caused problems. … The neighbors are at their wit’s end with this, and the county is stuck in the middle.”

Ultimately, the county’s goal with code enforcement is compliance, not punishment, Samson said.

“We’re trying our best to keep both of you happy,” he said, acknowledging the county probably hasn’t heard the last of it.

Neighbor Ashley Paige said the resolution approved on Monday appears to give “immunity” to the ranch owners.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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