Latest Marketplace dispute: Sheep | AspenTimes.com

Latest Marketplace dispute: Sheep

Gina Guarascio

These sheep have been living on the site of the formerly proposed Crystal River Marketplace in Carbondale for about a month. Town officials say livestock inside town limits is illegal and have threatened a $500 per day fine if they're not removed. (Gina Guarascio photo)

Carbondale residents in 2003 made clear they don’t want a big-box development on commercial property along Highway 133. Apparently sheep aren’t welcome, either.Town officials say the eight sheep, grazing on property owned by Brian Huster of Crystal River Development, violate town zoning ordinances.Community Development Director Doug Dotson notified Huster of the violation by letter Sept. 12. The letter asks that the sheep be removed within 15 days or the owners will face a $500-per-day fine. The sheep belong to rancher Greg Casteel, the boyfriend of Jo-Dee Lynn Russell, who runs the new High Country Produce store that’s also on the property. Casteel is leasing the 21 acres formerly proposed for the Crystal River Marketplace development, according to Huster’s local attorney, Eric Gross.Casteel said he has a long-term lease on the property and a written contract that allows the agricultural use. He eventually plans to have up to 200 sheep, along with a 3,600-square-foot barn. Even more, he plans to incorporate a program called Carbondale Youth Farm and Ranch Program to teach kids about ranching.

“I know it will be a great program,” Casteel said. “I’ve been doing this all my life, I just want to share it. It’s kind of a dying trade right now.”The town and Huster have been at odds over the property since shortly after the July 2003 referendum election, when voters shot down Huster’s Marketplace plan.Crystal River Development sought through District Court to have the property “de-annexed” from the town and redesignated as agricultural land under Garfield County zoning. The case was dismissed in District Court last December, but Gross said they are in the appeal process.Huster has claimed the move was intended to decrease his property tax burden, which is greater under the parcel’s commercial designation than it would be if it were zoned agricultural. However, there has been speculation that the move might be designed to put the parcel in the county’s jurisdiction, where Huster could eventually have an easier time gaining development approvals.”We already tried to develop it commercially,” Gross said.

He said having livestock on the property significantly helps to lower the tax burden, but that it was Casteel’s idea.”He approached us about grazing out there,” Gross said.According to Dotson’s letter regarding the sheep, the parcel is zoned as planned community commercial and commercial/retail/wholesale. Neither of those uses allows agricultural operations.The town code provides that “no horses, cattle, cows, swine, sheep, goats or asses, shall be housed, stabled, corralled, pastured, or otherwise kept within town limits,” the letter states.Dotson also writes in the letter that unauthorized use of the property constitutes a public nuisance, and that if the town has to take any type of legal action to enforce the zoning requirements, it will seek recovery of all attorneys fees and costs.

“This is one of the reasons we are seeking to de-annex from the town,” Gross said, “because they try to prohibit use that has been allowed.”Gross claims the property has always been used agriculturally, even after it was annexed to the town and zoned for commercial uses in the late 1970s.”It’s allowed because it’s been a continual use,” Gross said. “I think it will be very hard to show that there hasn’t been livestock on that property every single year. It’s been documented.”Town Manager Tom Baker said any livestock on the property in the past wandered in from the adjacent Colorado Rocky Mountain School property, which is outside town limits in unincorporated Garfield County.Baker said the sheep are clearly on Huster’s parcel, as they are behind a new fence that the town’s building department approved.

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