Stream tract measure another protection tool
• The ordinance only applies to town-owned property along Gore Creek, and prohibits adjacent property owners from building or landscaping on town property.
• The measure allows the town to collect fees and from adjacent property owners who violate the ordinance.
• The town has sent more than 700 letters about the ordinance to adjacent property owners.
• The town has reserved to itself the ability to build and maintain “limited public, pedestrian or recreational uses.”
VAIL — The Vail Town Council’s regulatory drive to improve the health of Gore Creek is likely to continue Tuesday night.
The council will hold a public hearing at its evening meeting on the second and final reading of an ordinance intended to limit building and landscaping along the creek. In this case, the ordinance applies to town-owned property along the creek, and those who own property adjacent to that public land. The measure passed on first reading at the council’s June 2 meeting.
The latest ordinance is part of a series of steps the town has taken to improve the health of the creek. The creek, along with several other mountain streams, since about 2012 has been included on a relatively new state list of “impaired” waterways. In the case of Gore Creek, causes for landing on the list are many, and include storm runoff from roads and highways, chemicals that damage insect populations and trimming streamside vegetation in which bugs live. Those damaged insect populations affect the fish population, and a diminished fish population can lead to other damage on a stream.
The ordinance up for discussion Tuesday night — Ordinance 6 — states that every piece of town-owned property along the creek shall be kept in a largely natural state, with the exception of “limited” recreational purposes. That mandate applies in large part to adjacent property owners. The “encroachments” described in the ordinance have taken place over decades. They range from simple mowing to landscaping, patios, and, in one case, construction of an outdoor basketball court. In the case of the basketball court, Vail Community Development Director George Ruther emailed that the town and property owner had negotiated an agreement to remove the court and rehabilitate the disturbed area.
The ordinance sets up a system in which town officials will provide notice of violations to property owners. It also gives the town authority to remove any improvements made to town land, and charge adjacent property owners up to double the costs. The ordinance also establishes fines up to $750 for violations.
The Vail Homeowners Association, a group of second-home owners that sometimes lobbies the Town Council, has not yet taken a position on the ordinance. But association director Jim Lamont said some group members have a “degree of concern” about the measure.
Vail Town Council member Dale Bugby, the only member of the council to vote against the ordinance on first reading, said he agrees with much of the intent, but would like to see some changes in the measure.
“This is building on your neighbor’s property,” he said of those who put landscaping or other improvements on town-owned land. “You’re damaging public property.”
On the other hand, Bugby said, he can understand a property owner’s desire to mow down to the creek’s banks in order to have a better view of the stream. And, he added, the town itself mows down to the streambank at some of its creekside parks. The same rules should apply to both the town and property owners, he said.
Bugby added that he’d like to see a process for appeals that includes more than just a town official. The Vail Planning and Environmental Commission and the town council should play a role, he said.
“We need to have better due process,” he said.
That can be important, Bugby said, because many creekside properties have been bought and sold — some several times — since the original “encroachments” took place.
Ultimately, he said the town might be better served by passing a comprehensive environmental ordinance that applies to everyone who owns property along Gore Creek and its tributaries.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com or @scottnmiller.