Trail access delays school decision | AspenTimes.com

Trail access delays school decision

Naomi Havlen

Concerns about future access to public property has stalled a decision about whether a local school can subdivide its property in Woody Creek.The Aspen Community School wants to split its 200 acres into three parcels, two of which could be sold for private development with the proceeds creating an endowment for the school. But members of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners think the plan should include a public trail through the school’s property to land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.If a trail easement is not created in the area, Commissioner Michael Owsley said, surrounding private property may make it hard for the public to get to the BLM land. Commissioner Mick Ireland agreed at the commissioners’ Wednesday meeting, but commissioners Jack Hatfield and Dorothea Farris agreed with school representatives, who oppose the creation of a trail.Commissioner Patti Clapper was absent for the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting, so with the deadlocked vote the issue was continued to the Sept. 14 meeting, where Clapper will be asked to make a decision.Jim Curtis, a board member of COMPASS – the nonprofit organization that runs the charter school – who is presenting the subdivision proposal to the county commissioners, said he doesn’t want a trail added to the area for a number of reasons. Primarily, he said, he worries about uncontrolled access to the area where children attend school.”It’s an extremely important item for us, given our overriding objectives of ensuring the security and safety of the kids,” Curtis said.The issue may even be a deal-breaker, he said, although he wouldn’t speculate on what would happen if the commissioners decide a trail is mandatory for the subdivision’s approval.”We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” he said.His other concerns include the steep terrain, which might make a series of switchbacks necessary, and that the area is a habitat for elk and deer. He also told the commissioners he doesn’t know where trail users will park if they flock to the area to recreate.Curtis said he also wonders if the trail will affect property values of the two parcels the nonprofit will sell.Curtis has estimated each parcel would sell for up to $3 million for the COMPASS endowment.Owsley said he’s worried about a “perimeter of luxury homes” in the valley separating residents from their public lands. This particular BLM parcel is bordered by private property up Little Woody Creek Road and would also have these two new private parcels cutting off public access.A trail doesn’t need to be cut in the area, he said; it could simply be “trod upon,” and he doesn’t think people walking through the area will disturb the elk and deer habitat.As for the safety concern, he noted that when two homes are built on the newly subdivided parcels, construction crews will frequently be in the area. He also noted that there are nordic skiing trails surrounding the Aspen school campuses on Maroon Creek Road and no safety problems.”You should be concerned with keeping access to land you formerly owned – the kids can use it,” Owsley said. Ireland suggested the trail be open to the public on weekends and days when school is not in session.As a part of the Aspen School District, the Aspen Community School receives funding from the state on a per-student basis, which is typically low because of the school’s low student-teacher ratio. Fund raising and grants provide additional money for the school.”Basically, we want to establish some financial stability, and the endowment should move us in that direction,” he said. The endowment is expected to bring the nonprofit $150,000 per year.Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com