Jerome Osentowski (center) with his attorney, James Knowlton (left), and non-legal representative Maya Ward-Karat. Photo by James Steindler

On Jan. 10, the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) hit another roadblock during what the organization had hoped to be its final hearing before the Eagle County Commissioners addressing its application for a special land use permit.

Jerome Osentowski, CRMPI’s founder, filed an application for a special use permit in May 2021 and has been fighting for the future of the institute ever since.

While the commissioners were overall satisfied that CRMPI met the majority of the standards for a special use permit, the question of legal access prevented approval at the time. The county’s community development staff admitted that it only recently came to their attention that legal access — “legal” being the key word — along Cedar Drive was at issue.

“Once we investigated a bit further we do not believe that we have evidence that there are full legal access easements in place for all properties for Upper Cedar Drive,” stated County Engineer Julie Pranger.

Pranger added that staff generally would accept access easements between property owners along the private road or a court decree as proof of legal access.

The applicant’s attorney, James Knowlton, argued that the code does not expressly require the applicant to prove “legal” access. “Nowhere do we see any requirement in the code for ‘legal,’” Knowlton stated.

“If you deny a special use permit because there is no legal access you are in effect making a determination that there has to be legal access,” he added. “Either way you go, you’re caught in a conundrum of determining whether it’s legal or not legal.”

After a brief executive session, commissioners Matt Sherr and Jeanne McQueeney agreed that the term “legal” is inferred. “To me, access and legal access are the same thing,” said McQueeney. “Otherwise, we would just be having people trespassing everywhere.”

“Back to the board’s original hearing of this file, access has been an issue both with quality and potentially legal access as well,” stated Matt Peterson, assistant county attorney, who went on to echo Knowlton’s point. “But, it’s really not for the board to weigh in and say whether legal access has been proven or not without a recorded easement, whether that’s through a private agreement, court decree … something of that nature.”

After deliberating, the commissioners were reluctant to deny the application and suggested either tabling the hearing or that CRMPI withdraw its special use application and refile.

If CRMPI were to withdraw its application, then it could refile at any time but would have to start from square one. If the commissioners voted to deny the application, CRMPI would have to wait a year before refiling.

The applicant’s team took a few minutes to confer in private. Upon their return, they requested a five-month tabling period to avoid having to begin the process all over again while giving them adequate time to address the access predicament. 

Peterson notified the commissioners that technically, when tabling an application, it could be considered dormant after 90 days and deemed withdrawn. Therefore, the applicant was granted a 90-day tabling period to work out the access issues.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that this came to us as a complaint and we’re trying our best to find a way to make this work,” stressed McQueeney. She explained that if a special use permit is ultimately granted, it would make the neighborhood safer as the county would have more oversight over CRMPI’s operations. 

“As both of my colleagues have mentioned, this is a really difficult file. I think it is clear that we are trying our best to support CRMPI, which is out there doing good in the world,” Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry repeated. She concluded, however, “For me, the real stopping point is road access, and I do not see how I can vote in favor because of that issue.”

The hearing was continued to April 4.