John Colson: Kudos to Garfield commissioners for Ascendigo no vote

John Colson
Hit & Run

I had planned an entirely different topic for this column, but as happens fairly often, an abrupt political development has forced me to toss that topic onto the back burner and take up a new one.

In this case, once again, the Garfield Board of County Commissioners has come out with a decision that surprised me — and a rather pleasant surprise it was.

On Monday morning, the BOCC voted 2-1 to deny an application to build a large, year-round facility to house the Ascendigo Autism Services organization, which helps young autistic individuals by offering support, adventure and other services aimed at improving the lives of the participants (you can find out more about Ascendigo, which is based in Carbondale, at their website —

In making the decision, Commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin voted for denial while Commissioner Tom Jankovsky (ostensibly the commissioner charged with representing Carbondale and the surrounding area) cast the sole vote for approval, thereby rejecting the hopes of a significant swath of his Carbondale-area constituents who had been actively opposing the Ascendigo proposal based on a variety of concerns.

It was left to Commissioner Samson, who technically represents the western end of the county, to be the driving force behind the decision about an area far from his representational jurisdiction, though all three of the board members are expected to exercise their duties in keeping with the needs of citizens throughout the county.

Samson’s motion to deny the application, according to a news report about the Monday meeting, was in part based on his conclusion that the proposal did not fit the county’s definition of “educational facility,” a definition that was an integral part of the debate between the project’s proponents and its opponents.

Samson also was concerned, according to the report in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, about whether there would be sufficient water to support the 6,000-square-foot base facility, the 8,500-square-foot lodge for participants (called “campers” in the application), a 14,000-square-foot “activity barn,” an equestrian center, as well as a guest cabin and a caretaker unit.

Residents of the area around the 124-acre site for the Ascendigo facility had long argued that there is not enough water available for such a facility, and that the water supplies for the area are dwindling due to an ongoing regional drought.

One of the neighbors told me that her neighborhood, a small subdivision near the proposed Ascendigo facility, has been informed this summer that there would be no irrigation water in the ditches meant to supply homes with water for lawns, gardens and other uses. None. At all.

Finally, Samson’s motion declared the proposed facility would not be “compatible” with its surroundings, which predominantly comprises large-lot residential subdivisions.

“There are much better places in our county to put those types of facilities,” Samson was quoted as saying.

According to observers who were at the meeting, Commissioner Martin, the chair of the board, said little during the Monday meeting, which came at the end of a series of contentious public hearings at which the majority of comments were in opposition to Ascendigo’s plans.

Jankovsky, however, said he believed the concerns about water supplies had been adequately countered by the developers, a corporation run by a man who lives on the Front Range; that the proposed project did meet the definition of “educational facility”; that fire-danger concerns offered by the opposition would be the same no matter where the facility might be located; and that is was compatible with the surrounding community.

“I think it was more compatible than five-acre lots and large homes,” Jankovsky was quoted as saying.

In any event, the project is dead, for now, though it may come back in some future iteration, as it has before.

As I noted at the outset, I have been surprised by the BOCC in the past, going as far back on time as the late 1970s, when a BOCC made up of three individuals, predominantly ranchers, rejected a proposal to build a veritable new town called Crown at the base of Mount Sopris near Carbondale. My recollection is that developers wanted to build between 900 and 1,000 homes on what had historically been (and mostly remains) pasture land for grazing cattle, situated only a couple of miles from the century-old town of Carbondale.

That was not a palatable idea even for the pro-development BOCC at the time (one commissioner operated a ranch near the proposed development site), and they turned it down.

Other times the BOCC has surprised me have included its rejection of a plan, in 2014 or thereabouts, to vacate County Road 106 as it passes through Colorado Rocky Mountain School near Carbondale (in that decision, too, Jankovsky was the sole vote for approval); and the 2019 denial of a plan to plop down a huge storage facility on land along Highway 82 near the Catherine Store gas station/convenience store.

There may be others, but I simply could not recall them by this week’s deadline — suffice it to say, I like being surprised in this way by the BOCC, even if it disrupts my weekly column writing routine.

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