Garfield County planning staff recommends approval of controversial Ascendigo camp ahead of Monday hearing

Garfield County commissioners speak with Ascendigo Autism Services land-use consultant Bob Schultz during a May 18 site visit.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The long-awaited public hearing opens Monday afternoon for Garfield County commissioners to consider Ascendigo Autism Services’ controversial plan to develop a summer camp and year-round facility at the far eastern end of Missouri Heights.

It will come with a county planning staff recommendation for approval of the project, based on its lengthy analysis of the project proposal.

Key in making that recommendation is that staff said the proposal meets the definition of an “educational facility” as an allowed use in the county’s rural zone district, subject to a limited impact review hearing.

“Staff has reviewed the public comments on this issue and maintain(s) that the educational facility is an appropriate land use category for the current application,” planning staff wrote in its analysis of the Ascendigo proposal.

Under that definition, an education facility can include housing, areas for food preparation and consumption, offices, therapy services, outdoor activities and even special events — all components of Ascendigo’s plans, county planning staff concluded in the analysis.

The staff recommendation landed in the packet of information finalized on Friday and linked to the commissioners’ agenda for the Monday meeting. It accompanies more than 30 separate document attachments that will be part of the Board of County Commissioners’ formal review of the application.

Ascendigo is proposing to turn the 126 acres of previously subdivided rural, residential land into a summer camp and year-round activities center to serve children who are on the autism spectrum. The proposal includes a 6,800-square-foot base facility, an 8,500-square-foot lodge for campers, a 14,000-square-foot activity barn, an equestrian center, plus a guest cabin and caretaker unit.

Since learning of Ascendigo’s plans late last fall, neighbors in the mostly low-density subdivisions that surround the proposed camp site on three sides in both Garfield and Eagle counties just north and west of El Jebel have rallied in opposition to the plans.

To date, the opponents, organized as Keep Missouri Heights Rural and with their own legal representation to argue against the proposal, have gathered more than 620 signatures from people who say they oppose the plans.

Their primary concerns are the likely increases in traffic that the development will bring, an increased risk of wildfire, and worries about the adequacy of water to serve the development and potential impacts on their own water supplies.

Residents of the area also contend that the camp development represents a commercial-scale operation that they say is incompatible with the surrounding large-lot residential/ranchette land uses.

Opponents are expected to show up in force, whether online via Zoom or in person at the commissioners hearing room in downtown Glenwood Springs, 108 Eighth St., Room 100, for the public hearing.

The hearing is set to begin during the afternoon session of the regular Garfield County BOCC meeting at 1 p.m. Monday. Commissioners have reserved the right to continue the hearing until 9 a.m. Tuesday.

The county planning staff recommendation comes after what it said was a thorough review of the proposal and Ascendigo’s representations regarding efforts to mitigate traffic, fire and other impacts.

Planning staff said it also has taken input from various review agencies, including the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Parks and Wildlife, Garfield County Road and Bridge, and the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District, and weighed their concerns. It also reviewed the many hundreds of public comments that have been received.

While public comments have been predominantly opposed to the plans, none of the review agencies stood opposed. Some did make some recommendations about lessening the impacts. Many of those are contained in a long list of conditions, should the county commissioners decide to approve the project.

The formal public hearing finally commences after county commissioners in early May conducted a site visit to get a firsthand look at the proposed camp location and ask questions of the applicants and county staff.

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

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