No decision on Ascendigo camp after hearing spills on day three; the debate focuses on the definition of “educational institution” to respond to rural zoning

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Members of the public fill the Garfield County Commissioners’ meeting room in Glenwood Springs on Monday to hear about plans for the Ascendigo Ranch camp for children with autism in rural Missouri Heights, east of Carbondale.
John Stroud / Freelance Post

Whether the camp proposed by Ascendigo Autism Services in Missouri Heights meets Garfield County’s definition of an “educational facility” dominated much of the debate during a full day of public commentary before county commissioners Tuesday.

Neighbors who oppose the project argue the definition is an attempt to ‘shoehorn’ the proposed summer camp and year-round therapy service center amid the rural residential neighborhoods that straddle the line. from Garfield-Eagle County northeast of El Jebel.

Supporters of the project, including many Carbondale-based Ascendigo employees, former campers and parents of autistic children, countered that the programs provided by the organization are educational in nature.



Procedurally, there is no time limit for making comments to Commissioners on land use issues, so those who have spoken on the emotionally charged issue have taken full advantage of this. clemency.

County commissioners heard comments from more than 45 people – some taking 20 minutes or more to make their case – before continuing the public hearing for a third day.



About 40 more people have expressed a desire to comment via Zoom and will have the chance to start at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

The exact moment when the Commissioners will make the decision whether or not to allow Ascendigo to transform the former 126-acre Whitecloud residential development into a summer outdoor adventure camp and a year-round facility to serve the autistic children is an enigma.

The camp is categorically opposed by hundreds of residents surrounding the site for reasons ranging from concerns about forest fires, increased traffic on rural roads, water availability and potential impacts on nearby wells, and compatibility with mostly rural homes on large lots dotted with sage. covered hills of eastern Missouri Heights.

Whether the camp meets the county’s definition of “educational institution” in the rural area district is a matter of interpretation.

County planning staff made the designation and also recommended approval for the project, saying the camp is considered permitted educational use, but undergoes a limited impact review before county commissioners.

Steve Coon lives on Harmony Lane just east of the proposed campsite, which would serve as the main entrance to the facility.

“I’m not against Ascendigo, and I don’t wish any hard feelings against anyone here today,” Coon said. “They do a great job… but, this is a business entity, not an educational institution.”

Several opponents pointed to the county code’s very definition of an educational institution, which says that in order to meet this standard, it must be associated with an educational institution.

Ascendigo does not have such an affiliation and does not define itself as an educational institution, said neighboring resident Kirk Hartley.

“The intention was to create a neighborhood school, possibly with staff quarters on site,” he said. “What they offer most resembles a commercial and recreational summer camp.”

Hartley also echoed a common preface from many opponents of the project, saying, “I assure you that the people here who oppose this project agree and support Ascendigo’s mission.

“This is not the right place. “

Several Ascendigo program directors and instructors have challenged the claim that their work with children and adults with autism is not educational.

“Education is different for people with disabilities,” said Julie Kaufman, director of development at Ascendigo, adding that simply learning independent living and social skills is education for children on the spectrum.

“Our participants may not get their education in a calculus class,” she suggested. “But learning is not always measured by a PSAT. It is still an education.

Valerie Paradiz is the Vice President of Services and Supports for the Autism Speaks organization and also spoke about the educational aspects of what Ascendigo does.

Growing up as an autistic child herself, she said the outdoor experiences her family had exposed her to – which are integral to Ascendigo’s mission and the very essence of Summer Adventure Camp – “Helped me feel confident as a person”.

The Ascendigo proposal also received approval from Patrick McGinty, director of special education for the Roaring Fork School District. He said local schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt are working closely with Ascendigo to meet the educational needs of students across the spectrum.

The availability of water to serve the camp and the potential impacts on nearby residential wells also continued to be a major topic in Tuesday’s comments, as was the case during Monday’s claimant presentation and counter-arguments of the opposition group Keep Missouri Heights Rural.

Ascendigo also plans to irrigate the pastures on the property using water diverted from the upper part of Cattle Creek, which they say will be used to recharge the aquifer. That wouldn’t be the case with residential development, land use consultant Bob Schultz said in Monday’s presentation.

However, the availability of water diverted to the site during the ongoing drought is a problem, said neighboring resident Bill Niro.

Already this year, he said residents of Missouri Heights who are served by the Spring Park Reservoir ditch system have been told there is not enough water in the reservoir to provide actual water this year. summer.

Tuesday was the first full day dedicated to hearing and commenting on Ascendigo’s plans. The hearing began during the afternoon session of Monday’s regular County Commissioners Council meeting.

Senior Journalist / Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected]

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