Guest column: Opposition to Ascendigo is about land use, not disability

Karen Moculeski
Keep Missouri Heights Rural

In her recent column, Andrea Chacos outrageously and without any basis accuses those who oppose the proposed Ascendigo Ranch of discriminating against those with disabilities, and specifically, those on the autism spectrum.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and the hundreds of letters written in opposition to the project to news outlets and the Garfield County commissioners consistently state this is a land use matter, and is not about Ascendigo or whom they serve.

I and many of my neighbors are personally insulted by this unfounded attack which impugns the integrity and motivations of those in opposition, including hundreds of Missouri Heights property owners.

Let’s look at why 550 (and still growing) neighbors signed their names in opposition to the development. Ascendigo proposes nearly 50,000 square feet of lodging, dining (72 indoor/24 outdoor), indoor recreation facilities, caretaker and guest housing, and related facilities. Their lot is completely surrounded by single family homes in a neighborhood zoned for agricultural and low-density residential uses.

The total cost of this project is projected at $20 million to $25 million. It will not be the small, quiet eight-week summer camp initially presented to a few neighboring residents in July 2020, but rather a year-round commercial operation that will host seminars for outside organizations, fundraisers, therapy sessions, a winter camp and a growing list of ambitious commercial uses.

During the summer “camp” season, over 100 people — campers, staff, cooks, administrators, maintenance personnel and caretakers — will be on site every day, and this number will balloon to 150 plus on “turnover” days every week. The daily population will decrease somewhat after the summer camp sessions, but not by much.

The only access to the site is a private, dirt road that currently serves 20 properties and hay fields. Traffic will increase from the current 76 trips a day on the dirt road to at least 210 trips per day. Even that number is questionable because it doesn’t include deliveries or incremental field trips now that water activities are unlikely due to drought and ditch water realities. The daily site population will decrease somewhat after the summer camp sessions, but not by much. Access from Colorado Highway 82 is possible on two roads, both of which have blind spots, right angle turns and are quite steep. They are hazardous enough during dry weather and treacherous during wet and snowy weather, with multiple accidents annually, including a recent fatality on adjacent Fender Road.

The real kicker is where this site is located on the fire hazard map of the GARCO Community Wildfire Protection Plan, the overall fire risk based on fire service access and other factors is rated “Extreme Risk.” Why would anyone place children and adults in a camp setting here?

Having a large, concentrated population plus horses and other animals on-site to evacuate during prime fire season is simply negligent, especially given the notoriously high winds here and the recent experience of Missouri Heights residents who lived through actual fires. Some residents had only 10 minutes to evacuate the Lake Christine Fire, and the area evacuated included the proposed site.

Missouri Heights is an elevated desert. Ascendigo claims to have plenty of water for their intense operation, but they don’t. The ditch water normally available for irrigation has all but disappeared because of the ongoing drought. As an integral part of its fire safety plan, Ascendigo was going to “flood the fields” with stored irrigation water. There isn’t any.

There is only a limited amount of well water that can be used, and it comes from the same aquifer as surrounding farms and the people who live here. After Ascendigo’s own pumping test, the aquifer did not recover for eight days when it should have recovered in a few hours. This is a real concern for neighboring residents because their wells will be affected. A qualified geologist explained that, because of the site location near a ridge, the aquifer cannot recover as it might elsewhere.

There are many other concerns, but these are the most important. It’s a land use and environmental issue. Don’t try and make it into something it’s not, Ms. Chacos.

Ascendigo’s proposal is simply not compatible with Garfield County’s 2030 master plan or the surrounding neighborhood. Once again, we affirm that all of us collectively and individually support Ascendigo’s goals, mission and vision for a home, but we adamantly oppose the proposed location.

Karen Moculeski is president of the nonprofit Keep Missouri Heights Rural.

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