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Vail considers stream corridor protection ordinance

Proposed ordinance would implement a ‘no-mow zone’ near streams, creeks and alter building setback requirements

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers conduct a fishery survey on Gore Creek in Vail.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

Vail’s Planning and Environmental Commission is considering a new, two-part ordinance designed to restore and protect Gore Creek and its tributaries.

First, the proposed ordinance would establish a 10-foot “no-mow-zone” along streams and creeks in Vail, according to a recent press release from the town.

It would also have connotations for new developments in the town, changing required building setbacks outlined in the Vail Town Code.



Currently, buildings can be built no closer than 50 feet from the “centerline of the stream” of Gore Creek and 30 feet from the centerline of all tributaries. The new ordinance would change this requirement to be a 25-foot setback from the “ordinary high-water mark.”

“The Ordinary High Water Mark is the average 2 year flood line on Gore Creek and its named tributaries …” according to the language proposed to be added to town code.



Using this measurement instead of the “centerline” is a more stable measurement, is more equitable and would better protect native vegetation and natural mineral deposits near the waterways.

“While centerline of the creek may change on a daily or weekly basis, the [ordinary high water mark] varies on a longer timescale due to bank erosion and changes to the stream channel,” according to a staff report on the proposed changes. “It is a more static baseline from which to measure the setback and has become the industry standard in the decades since Vail’s setback ordinance was adopted.”

“A setback measurement based on [the ordinary high water mark] is also more equitable among properties adjacent to reaches of stream of varying width,” the report reads.

The language that is proposed to be added to the town’s code also adds protections for the “Riparian Zone,” defined as the 10-foot wide portion of land extending inland from the ordinary high water mark.

The loss of native vegetation and mineral deposits found in riparian areas — wetland areas next to rivers and streams — was identified as one of the three main causes for declining water quality in Gore Creek, according to the Gore Creek Action Plan.

“The proposed riparian setback seeks to reverse this trend by establishing a contiguous corridor of healthy, native vegetation along Gore Creek and its tributaries,” the report states.

The riparian setback has been given the nickname of the “no-mow zone” because the proposed ordinance would ban all “mowing, landscaping, grading, or disturbance” in this 10-foot zone, with a few exceptions.

These exceptions include the removal of noxious weeds, the removal of vegetation for official fire mitigation purposes, utility infrastructure, erosion and storm water control measures and public right of way such as roads, bridges, recreation trails and public parks, according to the proposed language.

Property owners along creeks and streams would be allowed to maintain a creek access path up to four feet in width, but the path must be made of “permeable materials” like native soil, sand or gravel. No pavement, concrete or other nonpermeable materials would be allowed under the proposal.

The Planning and Environmental Commission discussed the proposal at its regular meeting Monday afternoon and moved to continue the hearing on the proposal until its Nov. 22 meeting.

“Everybody is supportive of the effort to protect and restore Gore Creek; we’re just establishing the best way to do that,” Kristen Bertuglia, the town’s environmental sustainability director, said after the meeting Monday.

The commission is an advisory body, meaning it is tasked with making a recommendation for or against the proposal to aid the Vail Town Council in making the ultimate decision. Vail town staff have recommended that the commission support the proposal.

The proposed changes are “a step in the right direction,” Bertuglia said.

For more information on the proposal, contact Peter Wadden, watershed education coordinator, at pwadden@vailgov.com or 970-479-2144.


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