Vail to make ‘defensible space’ easier by changing zoning code to ease property-clearing
The Vail Town Council has to approve changes to the zoning code by ordinance. In the case of easing rules allowing clearing property, that ordinance will probably get its first hearing at the Dec. 19 meeting.
To learn more about defensible space, go to www.firewise.org.
VAIL — In a town with a lot of rules, it can be hard to accomplish something simple. That’s the case with clearing property to help protect homes against wildfire.
The Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 5, gave town staff the go-ahead to present an ordinance to change the town’s zoning code to allow property owners to clear vegetation from their property without going to the Vail Design Review Board for approval.
Paul Cada, the Vail Fire Department’s wildfire specialist, told the council that the current requirement is making it more difficult for property owners to follow fire department recommendations. That’s becoming more important, especially during dry years when the threat of wildfire grows with every rainless day.
Fire officials across the Rockies have for years encouraged homeowners to create “defensible space” around their homes near forested or other fire-prone areas. Creating that space involves steps ranging from moving fireplace wood piles to cleaning gutters to clearing vegetation from around a home. That’s particularly true in what fire officials call the “wildland urban interface” — private property near public land.
With Vail surrounded by national forest, many of the town’s residential areas are in that zone. With only one way in or out of Vail — Interstate 70 — a large wildfire could devastate the town. The Waldo Canyon Fire near Colorado Springs in 2012 is evidence of that kind of threat.
Vail has been fortunate over the years. Wildfires have been relatively scarce, and fire crews generally fully attack the fires that do crop up.
Fire department representatives will also evaluate property and provide recommendations about clearing space. In Vail, that’s when rules sometimes stymie action.
Vail Water Quality Education Coordinator Pete Wadden, a member of the team that’s putting together the new ordinance, told council members that sometimes the town’s rules can prevent property owners from taking recommended action.
Council members enthusiastically greeted the proposed rule change.
“I applaud having one solution to this,” council member Travis Coggin said.
Council member Kim Langmaid also applauded the proposed change — with one caveat.
Langmaid, the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center, asked Wadden, Cada and Jonathan Spence of the Vail Community Development Department if the proposed zoning change accounts for natural cycles, particularly bird migration.
Langmaid told the group there are guidelines for the best times to remove trees in ways that won’t affect migratory and nesting birds. In Vail, that period is generally between late April and July.
Wadden said the new rules can create a procedure to avoid tree-cutting during nesting season.
“We typically don’t see early-season tree cutting,” Cada said.
With direction from council member Greg Moffet to “go forth and remove,” Spence said an ordinance has been drafted and will be ready for a first-reading hearing at the council’s Dec. 19 meeting. Two readings will be required to pass the ordinance.
It’s a big deal when the governor pops in for a visit, especially if he traveled to the other side of the world to do it.