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Glenwood Council makes changes to riparian setback code amendment

City-owned land near the confluence of Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers sits empty and idle.
Kyle Mills / Post Independent

Glenwood Springs City Council voted to change a draft code amendment to allow just 20% disturbance of vegetation within 35 feet of rivers in city limits Thursday night.

After nearly four hours of presentation, public comment and council discussion, a final decision on an amendment of the city’s municipal code relating to riparian setbacks was delayed until the next regular City Council meeting Aug. 20. Councilor Tony Hershey voted against the continuance.

The percentage of vegetation that would be allowed to be removed under the code amendment was brought up in the presentation by senior planner Trent Hyatt. In April 2018 the River Commission originally recommended no more than 10% disturbance be allowed. In February of this year the Planning & Zoning Commission voted to allow 50% disturbance, which is what went into the draft amendment.

Existing nonconforming structures and landscaping would not need to be removed under the amendment, which refers to future disturbance.

After hearing public comment, Mayor Pro Tem Shelley Kaup made a motion to adopt the ordinance but with the River Commission’s original recommendation of no more than 10% disturbance. Councilor Rick Voorhees seconded the motion.

Councilor Charlie Willman said that several changes to the amendment’s wording were necessary for clarity. He also said, “I think 50% [disturbance] is a good compromise.” He made a motion to make some adjustments to the wording but leave the disturbance at 50%. Hershey seconded the motion.

Councilor Paula Stepp said she’d like to see a compromise between 10% and 50% disturbance.

Voorhees suggested pulling out the disturbance area percentage to a vote. 

“The language tweaks are not as important as the disturbance area percent,” he said.

Mayor Jonathan Godes said, “We’re either going to make a political decision tonight based on politics or we’re going to make a scientific decision or we’re going to combine the two. … I propose 20%, and I will not vote for anything over that.”

Godes’ motion agreed with Willman’s motion but with 50% moved down to 20%.

“Mr. Mayor, would you entertain 25%?” Willman asked.

“I would not,” Godes said.

Stepp seconded Godes’ motion.

Council voted to change 50% allowable disturbance in the code amendment to 20%, which passed 4-3. Councilors Steve Davis, Willman and Hershey were opposed.

Davis, who said he’s lived on the Roaring Fork River for 30 years, said, “I don’t at all like any of this. It’s contrived by people who don’t own property on the river to come in and tell the property owners on the river how to deal with their property. It’s nothing less than government taking property away from you. … Now you’re telling me the trees I own I don’t really have control over. … I don’t feel that I’ve abused the river at all, and I don’t need the government to tell me not to.”

Hershey was also not in favor of the amendment.

“People have property rights in this country, and I don’t understand why this council, with all the other things going on, feels it necessary to interfere in those property rights. … How can some of this not affect the value of people’s property?” he said. 

Public comment was almost exclusively in two groups: Friends of the Roaring Fork, river property owners or their relatives who were opposed to the amendment; and those in favor, mostly members of the River Commission or Roaring Fork Conservancy.

The opposition group frequently expressed concern about a decrease in property values, saying the amendment would cost homeowners “10s of millions of dollars.” 

Amanda Murray said the river is already pristine.

“My family has been protecting the river for decades,” she said.

Many in opposition said there is no proof that the amendment will improve water quality.

Lawyer Chris Bryan, representing Friends of the Roaring Fork, said a cost/benefit analysis should have been performed.

Many of those in favor said 50% allowable vegetation disturbance was too much.

“10% disturbance area is already a compromise,” River Commission member Erika Gibson said.

Rick Lofaro, executive director of Roaring Fork Conservancy, said that while most river property owners are good stewards, that doesn’t mean all of them are.

“Two weeks ago I responded to a complete clearcut of a riparian bank,” he said.

Many speakers questioned Friends of the Roaring Fork’s contention that the amendment would lower property values.

Other council action

Just before adjourning, council voted unanimously in favor of three agenda items: adopting the updated policy statement of Colorado Communities for Climate Action, of which the city is a member; approving a second term for Kurt Carruth and appointment of Greg Keller to the Downtown Development Board; and continuation of the face covering mandate and aligning language within the order with Gov. Jared Polis’ executive order.

cwertheim@postindependent.com


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