Future of Basalt farm still unclear after road-access question remains unresolved

Jerome Osentowski is seeking a special use permit from Eagle County for the future of his permaculture farm, the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute.
Credit CRMPI

The future of Basalt’s Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute remains in bureaucratic limbo after its special-use permit application got held up again Tuesday.

Owner Jerome Osentowski hoped that Tuesday’s hearing would be a slam-dunk after months of back-and-forth with the Eagle County, but county staff highlighted a lack of evidence for “legal access” on Cedar Drive — the private road that leads up to Osentowski’s property and the sustainable agricultural education center.

Without evidence for this kind of access, through a prescriptive easement or court decree, visitors and employees traveling up to the institute could be considered trespassing, according to county officials. 

County staff said the issue of defining and proving legal access only came up a few weeks ago in their research. 

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners offered to Osentowski the chance to withdraw or table his application before the board voted to deny it.

A denied application precludes the applicant from filing a similar application for a calendar year. 

Osentowski, Maya Ward-Karet, principal and owner of Earthbound Architecture and his representative through this process, and lawyer James Knowlton decided to table the application to address the legal-access question.

They originally asked for five months’ time, but Assistant County Attorney Matt Peterson pointed out that, after 90 days, the county could consider a tabled application withdrawn, which would force Osentowski to start the process over again.

Commissioners Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney expressed support for the institute’s mission and lauded its community contribution but stressed that it needed to meet the requirements for the special-use permit.

The commissioners also noted that this process began years ago because of a complaint, and that the county is trying to ensure safety for the institute and the community.

The next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4.

“Jerome’s main concern is that legal battles are very expensive,” said Ward-Karet following the hearing. 

She also said that she, Osentowski, and Knowlton will spend the next few months approaching neighbors to help fund the effort to prove legal access on Cedar Drive, as any property owner may encounter this issue in the future for another purpose.

The applicants, county staff, and the commissioners also discussed conditions to be met by the institute for the county to grant the special-use permit. They mostly addressed safety concerns related to roads and trails for emergency situations. 

That, however, was all moot without evidence of legal access to the property.

The Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-profit. They have offered classes on ecological gardening, edible landscaping, market farming, forest gardening, horticultural and sustainability skills, as well as greenhouse design and management since 1987, according to the organization’s website.

The institute will continue most of its agricultural operations, as the land is agricultural use by right and Colorado is a “right to farm” state, throughout the special-use permit process.


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