PI Editorial: Garfield County commissioners should approve Ascendigo proposal
Editor’s note: Managing Editor and Senior Reporter John Stroud did not participate in discussions for this editorial since he is the primary reporter on the story.
A few months ago, we encouraged the Garfield County commissioners to approve the proposed Ascendigo camp in Missouri Heights.
Now, at the precipice of what will hopefully be decision day Monday, we would like to circle back and once again tell the commissioners:
Approve the proposal.
Carbondale-based Ascendigo proposes to develop the site to include an 8,500-square-foot lodge for up to 24 campers and two counselors, a staff lodge of the same size that would sleep 48, a 6,800-square-foot “basecamp” building with reception and dining facilities, a 14,000-square-foot activity barn/equestrian center, and a caretaker and guest dwelling.
Ascendigo maintains the planned camp use will have less impact than the 15 to 23 houses that could be built on the site under previous approvals and developer intentions, but opponents disagree.
The Keep Missouri Heights Rural (KMHR) group has raised more than $25,000 in donations to fight the plans, including hiring consultants to review Ascendigo’s representations and offer counter-arguments.
Throughout the process, it feels oftentimes as if opponents are using the “kitchen sink” strategy and raising concerns about everything under the sun, from whether Ascendigo is truly a nonprofit (According to the IRS, they are) to whether the camp is a business or educational facility. One of the concerns from KMHR that most resonated with us was about water use – While KMHR state the camp would further strain water resources in Missouri Heights, Ascendigo’s experts state the camp would use less water than if the property were to be developed out for residential use. Contrasting Ascendigo’s report, KMHR’s expert states that the camp would use 28% more water than residential development. However, the county’s outside expert reports the camp would meet the county’s criteria and has both a legal and physical water supply.
So, what’s the truth on the water front? If anything, we suspect that there is some truth to all three, but we can’t help to note that there are more professional opinions supporting development of the camp than there are against right now.
If anything, we feel even more confident in Ascendigo’s plans after county planning staff recommended approval along with a number of conditions — one batch before last week’s public comment and another toward the end of public comment — to help address neighbors’ concerns.
To their credit, many residents within the Missouri Heights neighborhood have banded together and made sure their voices are heard throughout the process by county officials, Ascendigo and many others within the community. While approval would certainly be disheartening for them, we’d offer two thoughts on how to move forward after what may feel like a personal defeat.
First, don’t let it discourage you from staying involved in community issues. You not only raised awareness, you’ve made the project better than it was before through conditions Ascendigo will have to meet. That’s a job well done.
The second recommendation is the more difficult one. Despite how personal and how close you feel to the issue, really try to be open to Ascendigo being good neighbors, and find it in your heart to be a good neighbor in kind.
Missouri Heights is already home to one nonprofit ranch — Windwalkers equine assisted learning and therapy center. We know this isn’t a perfect apples-to-apples comparison — Windwalkers doesn’t have the same scale of infrastructure or visitors as proposed by Ascendigo — but we think there are enough similarities to consider how Windwalkers are both good neighbors and a great benefit to all of Garfield County.
We have both faith and confidence Ascendigo will also be a good neighbor, and continue to be a benefit to our entire community through the invaluable supportive services they offer for children and adults on the autism spectrum.
So, as we stand at the precipice, let’s hold hands and walk forward together as neighbors.
The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann and community representatives Amy Connerton and Karl Oelke, with Managing Editor and Senior Reporter John Stroud not involved in this discussion.
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