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Parrots in peril

A nonprofit organization that cares for abandoned or neglected parrots may be forced to fly the coop for the second time in five years.

The Gabriel Foundation was forced to leave the Gerbazdale area of Pitkin County in 1999 because of zoning violations.

Now it has been cited for land-use and zoning violations at its site on the Pitkin and Eagle county line in Emma. The Gabriel Foundation goes before the Roaring Fork Planning Commission, a branch of Eagle County government, Thursday to try to earn special approval to remain in operation.



“This feels like the worse deja vu I could ever have,” said Julie Weiss Murad, founder, president and executive director of the foundation.

When the foundation was booted by Pitkin County from its former spot at the Aspen Veterinary Clinic, the aviary, where the birds live, and flight cages, where they exercise, were moved to the seven-acre Emma property that Murad purchased.



A neighboring landowner ” who was trying to sell her property ” complained about the noise from the bird sanctuary in May. Officials from both Pitkin and Eagle counties investigated and found the operation out of compliance with various regulations.

The Gabriel Foundation currently houses about 200 parrots of various sizes at its facility along Emma Road. The birds are taken to covered areas outside, when weather permits, between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Otherwise they are cooped up inside.

Anyone who has visited the site can attest the birds can make quite a racket. But Murad noted that her neighborhood is a rural area, not a subdivision where houses are packed together.

Ironically, if Murad was slopping hogs or grazing cattle she wouldn’t be facing any heat. Agricultural uses aren’t prohibited in her Emma neighborhood. Cows, horses and even llamas are common in the area.

“The applicant has said ‘If I had 200 cows on my property no one would say they moo too loudly,'” said Pitkin County zoning officer Joanna Schaffner. The applicant is correct, she noted.

The problem is the county land-use code regards exotic birds differently than pigs or cows. The parrots aren’t part of an agricultural operation. They are considered a commercial operation.

That type of commercial operation isn’t allowed on Murad’s lot. The zoning there allows one home per 10 acres. Murad has seven acres. The only use allowed is a single-family home.

Schaffner said the Gabriel Foundation is a very worthwhile organization, but that isn’t the issue.

A second problem in Pitkin County is a flight cage, used to allow birds to fly around, is too close to the lot line, Schaffner said. The Gabriel Foundation was ordered last spring to correct the infraction. They have been given a reprieve to see if a special-use permit is granted by Eagle County.

The property is unique because it sits right on the county line, leaving some of the land and buildings in each county.

Eagle County cited the Gabriel Foundation and Murad for unauthorized use of the property in June 2003, and for unlawful uses of a building this month. Murad feels the citations were unjust because the former board of county commissioners told her they welcomed her organization to Eagle County.

However, she admitted they did warn her that she might need a special-use permit. She said it’s her fault she didn’t pursue it sooner. Now the neighboring landowner’s complaint is forcing the issue.

“It’s one of those NIMBY things,” said Murad.

She and the Gabriel Foundation will go before the planning commission at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Eagle County Community Center at the old Mount Sopris Tree Farm. The foundation will try to earn a special-use permit for its operation. The planning commission will make an advisory decision for the county commissioners.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]


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