Prehm Road debate reopened, most speakers favor trail
Backers of a public trail easement through the Prehm Ranch development pleaded for the Garfield County Commissioners to fight for a disputed county road easement.Opponents, meanwhile argued that the trail, or a roadway, wouldn’t be appropriate.”Keep the right-of-way for non-motorized use,” said Westbank resident Jeff Wisch. “It’s shortsighted not to.”Wick Moses of the Carbondale Trail Commission agreed. “And don’t just think in terms of recreation,” he said. “This public trail can also be used for commuting by bicycle.A half-dozen Westbank showed up wearing white T-shirts with a giant red slash through the words “Prehm Ranch Road.”They favor a trail, but oppose vehicular use of a road into Westbank built last year by the Prehm Ranch developers, Marlin Colorado Ltd.After taking public testimony and hearing presentations from the county attorney and surveyor, a title examiner and attorneys on both sides of the issue for more than three hours Monday, the Commissioners continued the public hearing regarding the future of the byway until Sept. 9.Commissioner John Martin said the commissioners and their consultants need more time to study and research the proper and legal use of the road.Martin’s request for additional time was precipitated by a mountain of freshly submitted exhibits, including land transfers, county road maps and right-of-way deeds, some dating back to 1885. “We need to err on the side of caution and good judgment,” said Martin. “A lot more research needs to be done.”In fact, the commissioners were instructed last week by Ninth District Judge Thomas Ossola that “no final action on the issues in question can be taken” at Monday’s hearing.The dispute stems from a request last September from Marlin Colorado Ltd., developers of the Prehm Ranch subdivision, to construct a one-lane gravel road connecting Prehm Ranch to the Westbank subdivision. Commissioners turned the request down, but Marlin still constructed the road. At an April 8 hearing, the commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a settlement that gave Marlin limited use access through a locked gate. Only authorized drivers would be given key codes to the gate, which would automatically lock after a total of 27 cars per day passed through.But four months later, the settlement still hasn’t been signed and opponents of the road convinced the commissioners to hold another public forum on the issue in hopes of changing the county’s position.Advocates of a non-motorized public biking, hiking and equestrian trail have joined the controversy, requesting that a trail easement be granted for the road.”I don’t know about easement ownership,” said Jeff Houpt, chairman of the Glenwood Springs River Commission. “But if there’s one kernel of opportunity for non-motorized traffic, I urge the commissioners to not vacate it or give up on it.”Steve Beattie, a Westbank resident and attorney for the Westbank Homeowners Association, supports the idea of non-motorized trails – but not necessarily through his neighborhood. “I don’t know one resident who has any objection to pedestrian and bicycle trails,” said Beattie. “But not without evaluating the neighborhood. We all know that phrase NIMBY – not in my backyard,” he continued. “Well this is NIMFY – not in my front yard.”Beattie explained that a bike and walking path throughout Westbank would affect over half of the front yards in Westbank.”The county has jurisdiction over roads,” Beattie said, “but it doesn’t (have jurisdiction) over trails.”Before the next hearing in September, the commissioners have four choices to weigh. They may vote:-For the road with no trail access.-For the road and for the trail.-Against the road and for the trail.-For neither the road or the trail. As it stands, the legality and ramifications of each of these choices are numerous. Although public opinion reflected all of these choices, at Monday’s meeting the majority appeared to favor the trail and oppose the road. Westbank resident Mark Gould, who owns Lot 21 at the end of Oak Lane, urged the commissioners to reconsider voting for the trail and not the road.”I’m asking for the trail and not the road,” he said. “It’s OK to change your mind when new facts come up. I’m urging you to reconsider a trail now that you have new facts.”Westbank resident Susie Duroux agreed.”As a Westbank homeowner, I’m happy to share with hikers and bikers. I say yes to the trail and no to the road,” she said.But it may not be as simple as that.Garfield County Commissioner Walt Stowe said he isn’t certain that option is legal. Following the hearing, he was uncertain if the commissioners could approve the trail without also approving a road for vehicular use. The hearing on the Prehm Ranch Road will continue 1:15 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, at the Courthouse Plaza, across from the Garfield County Courthouse in Glenwood Springs.
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