Council, residents express concerns about Town Park in Snowmass Village

Application requires supermajority approval to pass final review

Sara Tie from Connect One Design marks up a map near the wetlands during a Snowmass Village Planning Commission site visit of Snowmass Town Park on Tuesday, July 12, 2022.
Kaya Williams/The Snowmass Sun

Snowmass Village resident Bryan Gieszl is a self-identified “serious birder” so avid he estimates he’s seen some 4,500 different species of birds in his pursuits.

The wetlands in Snowmass Town Park are one of his go-to birding spots: Since April 2020, he’s been there 113 times and has spotted more than 80 species of birds — species that, like other wildlife there, are “sensitive to human disturbance,” according to Gieszl.  

Which is part of the reason Gieszl is concerned about the plans for a redesign of Snowmass Town Park, which include new ways for people to access and engage with the wetlands north of the park. 

Snowmass Village Town Council was set to consider the special review application for the Town Park revamp at a July 18 public hearing with eight specific land use criteria in mind — one of which is minimizing environmental impact. Gieszl predicted there could be a significant impact on the wildlife in the plans for Town Park. 

“If you put anybody on those paths, the wildlife is gone,” he said. “They’re just going to leave, and then what is there for people to appreciate?”

Gieszl was one of nearly a dozen people who spoke at the three-hour public hearing, which was designated for the first reading of an ordinance to approve the Town Park special review application with conditions. 

The majority of the speakers — and the majority of the council — expressed concerns about some aspect or other of the project, which also includes a reorientation and resizing of the Snowmass Rodeo grounds and the addition of new recreational amenities in the 22-acre park at the entrance of Snowmass Village. 

Two commenters, both of whom are on the Parks, Open Space, Trails and Recreation Board that helped develop the plans, spoke as community members in favor of the project during public comment.

Council needs a supermajority — that’s at least four votes out of five members — to pass the ordinance approving the Town Park special review application “because some of the park development is within 25 feet of the wetlands,” according to the agenda summary for this week’s public hearing. It’s required by municipal code. 

But after Monday night’s discussion, the council barely even had a majority to pass the first reading. Members voted 3-2 in favor of moving forward to the second reading.

Town Manager Clint Kinney confirmed in a phone call that the supermajority requirement applies to the final approval of the ordinance, so that 3-2 vote still gets the council to a second reading. 

Councilman Tom Goode made the motion to approve the ordinance on first reading, taking into account some conditions recommended by the Planning Commission. He also suggested considering an idea to look at a way to accommodate a warm-up area for horses that compete in the rodeo. 

“I think it’s going to be a good operation for the community, and I still feel that the rodeo is important for this community,” Goode said. 

Mayor Bill Madsen seconded the motion with “hope that at least one other will come on board so we can keep this project moving forward.” 

That one other would have to be Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk, because Councilmen Tom Fridstein and Bob Sirkus both said they wanted to see more information and more consensus before they’d be ready to even vote on the first reading of the ordinance.

Other concerns were related to the value of the project, its impact on the rodeo grounds and its impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. 

The Snowmass Western Heritage Association that produces the rodeo and the unaffiliated Roaring Fork Valley Horse Council that represents local equestrian interests have both sent letters to town officials citing safety considerations they say will be make-or-break issues for the vitality of the rodeo.

And at Monday night’s meeting, Snowmass Western Heritage Association board member Jim Finn said the nonprofit is not in agreement with the design proposal council was considering. 

There’s also the cost to consider, as Fridstein pointed out multiple times on Monday: The town has budgeted about $4.1 million this year for phase one of the project, which is primarily intended to beautify the entrance to Snowmass Village and bolster recreational amenities. If the point was beautification, he suggested he could get the job done with about $500,000 in landscaping and soft-surface improvements. 

“Nobody seems to be happy. I want people happy before we agree to go down this road. … I just don’t think anything’s resolved,” Fridstein said. “I know, we’ve been going down this road for years. We’re now at a point where we’re supposed to be … signing off on the major details, and I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Sirkus also wasn’t ready to vote. Considering the information that came up during the council discussion Monday night — and considering the town is still waiting on approval from the Army Corps of Engineers for a permit for some of the wetlands work — he likewise advocated for more information and more agreement on the plans before the town moves forward. (Town park planners said they expect approval on that permit by the end of the month.) 

“I feel that collectively, we’ve all missed the boat,” Sirkus said, referring to the lineup of Town Council, staff and Town Park planners in Town Hall for the discussion. 

“I’m not debating the amount of work and the amount of effort that we put in, but I feel like we didn’t ask the right people the right questions. … I think there were a lot of points that were well-made and need some consideration, thought and maybe some redesign before I’m ready to try to pass an ordinance,” Sirkus added. 

Shenk was on the same page, though that’s not where she thought she would be, she said. 

“I still believe we’re doing it in the best interest of the community, but it’s like, when you hear all this other information, which I don’t know enough about, because I am not a birder, it disturbs me, and I feel like we need to really have a better idea of what that exactly means,” Shenk said. 

Shenk acknowledged there are a lot of competing interests in the Town Park plans. The revamp has been bogged down by a too-much-stuff-not-enough-space conundrum from the get-go, with planners emphasizing the importance of compromise. She also suggested, as she has at council discussions in the past, that “if we do all this and it doesn’t work for the rodeo, then it’s kind of ridiculous.”

A draft agenda for upcoming Town Council discussions shows the Town Park review is slated to continue Aug. 1, which gives town officials just two weeks to get a boatload of input and try to get some favorable consensus on the plans from all of the different user groups with stake in the future of Town Park. Planners have been hoping that they could break ground in late August after the rodeo season wraps up, but that work is still contingent on getting the requisite approvals first.

“We’re three years in (to the planning process),” Kinney said. “I don’t see a whole lot changing in two weeks, but we will work our keisters off to make it happen.”