Our View: Reach a compromise on CRMS access | PostIndependent.com

Our View: Reach a compromise on CRMS access

A stop-work order remains in place at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School entrance outside Carbondale after Garfield County commissioners, school officials and neighbors were unable to reach any resolution to the ongoing access dispute Monday.
John Stroud | Post Independent

Imagine sending your teenager to Colorado Rocky Mountain School for a highly regarded, pricey education and outdoor experience in a quaint, out-of-the-way spot like Carbondale. You likely feel pretty good about safety on the rural campus, as you should and as you have every right to.

That is complicated by the fact, though, that a public right of way runs through campus that provides something of a shortcut for neighbors of the school or for people leaving or headed to the Rio Grande Trail to the north.

Nothing we say in this editorial is meant to suggest that the CRMS campus is a threatened or dangerous place, or that its neighbors are a danger to the students. CRMS is on the edge of a small town that enjoys the virtues, generally, of low crime and neighborliness.

Still, a campus where 100 high school students live and study is not a great place for 24/7 public access. In addition, about 30 faculty members, some with young children, also live on campus.

It is naive to think that our valley, as it becomes more populous, is immune to the world’s increasing ills. It’s just reality that more people bring more crime, more drunkenness, more homelessness, more mental illness, more wrong turns, more mischief — more to worry about.

Lately, a dispute involving CRMS and some of its neighbors, mostly in the Satank neighborhood to the north, has heated up over changes CRMS is making to its driveway at the southern end of the right of way — a change that was initiated by the county that enhances safety. Though it has necessary permits for the work and Garfield County was aware that the driveway would veer out of the right of way, some neighbors have alleged that CRMS is plotting to block their access.

Garfield County commissioners, who last year on a 2-1 vote refused to vacate the county road that is the basis for the public right of way, now have ordered work stopped and will visit the campus this week to seek a solution.

If ever a situation called for compromise, this is it.

For CRMS, having a public passage through the heart of its campus is an understandable concern. It’s an issue for the 62-year-old school that dates back to at least 1978, when it first asked the county to vacate the road through campus, and offered to deed land and share costs for construction of an alternative route from the south edge of Satank to Highway 133. At the time, County Road 106 was open to vehicles, raising different safety concerns.

CRMS did deed land to the county that became Dolores Way, and helped pay for the construction. In exchange, CR 106 was closed to vehicles, but the county retained the right of way through campus. Part of the concern was that CRMS might one day close or relocate, and the county might want to reopen CR 106. Theoretically, that issue still exists, and government should not relinquish public property lightly.

That’s not what’s on the table right now, with the county having rejected abandonment of CR 106 last year.

However, deeding the right of way to CRMS should be revisited.

CRMS already has given the county other land. Despite the county decision last fall, CRMS remains ready to pay for a pedestrian/bike trail along Dolores Way to Highway 133 to mitigate loss of passage directly through campus.

While some Satank neighbors wouldn’t be happy with that, we are under the impression that most of the concern is coming from a vocal minority.

The county has a couple of good reasons to abandon the right of way through campus. First, CRMS is a business. We suspect that the commissioners would look hard at a land swap if a new business with 70 employees, many with advanced degrees, wanted to locate in the county.

Second, Commissioner Mike Samson indicated frustration that the issue had come back before commissioners again — he had hoped CRMS and its neighbors would smooth out differences. That hasn’t happened, and some neighbors escalated the conflict by encroaching on school property and installing a culvert and passage over a ditch at the north end of the right of way that now makes it accessible to motorcycles and ATVs. At the same time, the school didn’t seek a meeting with neighbors and could easily been seen as insular or aloof.

But when an issue that first came to the commissioners in 1978 comes back 37 years later, it’s a good sign it will keep coming up until a resolution is reached.

Third is the safety issue.

CRMS leaders, just like public school officials, must take steps to prepare for the worst. The fact that more than 100 people live on campus makes this more imperative.

A campus with an unguarded entrance is not a secure campus. The commissioners of course don’t want a violent incident to bring this issue before them again. Ending public access to campus doesn’t assure that such a thing won’t happen, but it is a reasonable step that lets school officials better control their place of business and their students’ and employees’ home.

Short of abandoning the road, the county commission could limit access to daylight hours and allow the school to gate off the right of way at night. It may be able to give the school an exclusive lease and retain future rights to the right of way. The school might be willing to issue passes to neighbors who complete a simple application.

Something creative can and should be done — the status quo is broken.

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