Snowmass Village eyes loosening leash laws

People walk through the Snowmass Mall with leashed dogs on Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023, in Snowmass Village.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

The Snowmass Village Town Council is leaning toward giving more autonomy to dog owners on leashing laws that are rarely enforced as is, according to the town’s police chief.

The Town Council again took up the topic at its Sept. 18 meeting and will continue the discussion at its Oct. 2 meeting, giving town staff time to add language to the ordinance about the ability for homeowners associations and other interested parties to request mandatory leash zones.

Currently, the town code requires dogs to be on a leash when on property accessible by the public. Failure to comply with this restriction constitutes a dog running “at large.”

However, Chief of Police Brian Olson said leash laws are rarely enforced when a dog is off-leash in public, and town staff feels the laws should be amended to better fit the dog-loving community.

“I found it totally possible to support the idea of lessening the leash law to kind of mimic the way dog owners manage their animals on a regular basis — successfully, I think — throughout Snowmass Village,” he said.

Ordinance 7, which amends the leash laws, would make it so that a dog on a leash or under voice, visual, or electronic commands is not considered “at large.”

“At first reading, as you may recall, we had good discussion about the ability to control dogs through the voice, visual, electronic commands, and whether it’d be possible to tighten up the standards for when a dog is not under control. One of the two main changes from first reading to second reading is to try and create a better standard of control,” said Town Attorney Jeff Conklin.

According to him, a dog is considered under control if it’s within a “circle of control” by the owner by leash, voice, visual, or electronic commands. A “circle of control” is defined as an area within a 10-foot radius of the feet of the dog owner. This creates a clear standard for enforcement to determine whether a dog is under control or not.

“The logic to come up with that circle of control went through a progression of whether it should be 3 feet, 5 feet, but our current ordinance allows a 10-foot leash and has for 30 years, and it made sense if we’re going to require that circle of control for (a dog) that’s off-leash, we should give that same latitude of that 10 feet, which is not particularly huge if you have a 3-foot dog. So (a dog) who’s on-leash and (a dog) who’s off-leash has basically a 10-foot circle around the foot of the dog owner to maintain control,” Olson said. “At least that’s something then we can visualize and see if there’s a violation or not.”

The second change to the ordinance requires dog owners to carry a leash and dog waste bags with them while walking their dogs. Even if the dog can be controlled through visual, voice, or electronic commands, it will be required for owners to still carry a leash.

“I think, for me, this (conversation) is just helping refine what reasonable and responsible dog ownership should be, and I think that’s a really positive opportunity our council has brought into the public sphere,” said Councilwoman Britta Gustafson. “I think that our ideas of circle of control will primarily control all of the concerns, and those that can’t be controlled within that circle of control are going to be problems regardless.”

While some public comment supports the changes, other public comments questioned why it was necessary to change a law that is working.

“I’m not convinced that we have a system that’s working,” Mayor Bill Madsen said. “Really, in my mind, it’s less about a leash law and more about enforcing running at large, and that’s where we have the problem. All the examples that have been given to us have been about dogs running at large, and that’s really what we want to try and control.”

At the Aug. 21 meeting, council members agreed they were not comfortable passing a new leash ordinance without first establishing a preliminary list of mandatory leash zones. At the Sept. 18 meeting, the council did a first read of Ordinance 10, also known as the “companion ordinance” to Ordinance 7, the leash law ordinance.

The mandatory leash zones designated in Ordinance 10 include the Rim Trail area, Base Village area, Village Mall area, Snowmass Center area, Fanny Hill area, Elk Camp restaurant and recreation area, as well as Vista Trail area.

Map of the preliminary mandatory leash zones, both trails and areas.
TOSV/Courtesy image

“I think it’s really important to recognize the areas we designated in the second ordinance, … as mandatory zones, are very high-traffic, high-population areas — which makes a lot of sense for very big wildlife areas, like the Rim Trail,” said Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk.

Olson said that most of the leash zone areas are commercial cores. He said he reached out to owners and management of the various businesses to explain the proposed new leash ordinance and what it would mean if it passed.

“I offered them the ability to request a mandatory leash zone designation, and obviously, all of these places responded in the positive,” he said.

Regardless of the leash law discussion, Snowmass police were talking about designating the South Rim trail up to the Yin Yang a mandatory leash zone.

“It is so heavily hiked by visitors. Dogs off-leash, bikes, the interaction has been relatively complicated. Then you look at North Rim, and because of North Rim’s proximity to Sky Mountain, it already has had a designation as a leash trail — with the county, we agreed to do that. It left a section in the middle, and it just made sense to go from tip to tail,” said Olson.

No one registered public comment on Ordinance 10, and the council unanimously approved the first reading. The second reading of Ordinance 10 will be Monday, Oct. 2, as will the continued second reading of Ordinance 7, with public comment offered again.


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