Wildlife concerns trip up Droste plan near Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Wildlife concerns trip up Droste plan near Snowmass

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – A plan to build 10 homes in the hills above the Brush Creek Valley stumbled Wednesday over the elk that traverse the property.

Pitkin County commissioners called for an independent wildlife expert, to be hired on the county’s dime, to weigh in on the impact the homes and human activity would have on the Burnt Mountain elk herd, which migrates across the area between the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys, east of Snowmass Village.

The county has a slew of prior expert opinions, from the Colorado Division of Wildlife and others, related to development on the Droste family’s property, but some of them differ in how they rate the importance of the land, noted Commissioner Rachel Richards, who renewed her call for another opinion.

On Wednesday, commissioners peppered Randy Wright, local DOW wildlife officer, with questions. They asked whether tweaking placement of homes, or elimination of some homesites, could improve the situation for elk.

Some of the homesites edge toward what has been mapped as severe winter range for the animals.

“Droste ridge is absolutely critical from a migration standpoint,” Wright said.

But, he also said the plan for 10 clustered homes near the ridge leave room for elk to move, particularly given the preservation of the Seven Star open space parcel to the west.

“The elk do have adequate room to migrate through,” he said.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield suggested eliminating the four homesites closest to the ridge, but Wright said he couldn’t quantify what impact the reduction would have.

“The fewer homesites … the better it is,” he said. “When you start talking about one homesite here, one homesite there, is eliminating one homesite going to be critical? Probably not.”

The homesites have been situated to make them invisible from all points in the valleys below, though significant excavation will also be necessary to accomplish that goal. The four questionable sites could be relocated, said Francis Krizmanich, land-use planning consultant for the Drostes, but that might mean parts of those buildings would be visible, he said.

Previous land conservation deals to protect nearly 600 of the 926-acre Droste property allow development of the remaining land at a density that exceeds what has been proposed, Krizmanich reminded commissioners.

Landowner Peter Droste suggested the county would breach those conservation agreements by denying the development.

The Drostes have been working with the county on conceptual plans for the project, called Brush Creek Ranch, for five years, after the county shot down a previous plan for 14 homes.

“We think we’re entitled to an approval – if not now, in the very immediate future,” Krizmanich said.

The public has invested a lot of money in conserving the land surrounding the proposed development with wildlife protection in mind, Richards responded, urging commissioners to proceed cautiously.

“It’s important that the momentum of those efforts doesn’t fall short – that we don’t make a mistake at the end that negates those efforts,” she said.

Commissioners continued the hearing to July 22, and directed staffers to see what can be done about securing an independent wildlife consultant’s input by then.


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