According to County Planner Mark Castrodale, who spoke to the commissioners on Monday in Ridgway, his office has recently received phone calls and questions regarding the opening of a wildlife shelter – and its applicability to opening a large cat sanctuary in Ouray County. In June 2005, the commissioners approved wildlife shelters as a use allowed by Special Permit in the Alpine, High Mesa, Public Lands, South Slope, and Valley zones. The problem with approving a so-called wildlife shelter is that the commissioners, at the time the use was approved, never adopted a corresponding definition of wildlife shelter, and the Land Use Code was never amended to show this additional permitted use.
If an application for a wildlife shelter or a big cat sanctuary were to come forward, Commissioner Lynn Padgett asked Castrodale if it would be possible to listen to the 2005 minutes and get an idea of what the board was using as a definition to approve that use and use it in a current application.
“I think we can get a context of what they were going to do,” Castrodale said. “It would certainly be a good start.”
The history of wildlife shelters in Ouray County began in 2004, when Troy Abell and Lisa Baker expressed an interest in a wildlife shelter on their Laughing Bear Ranch located on Hwy. 550. Because this type of use did not fall under any of the current uses allowed by a Special Use Permit, an amendment to the LUC was required.
According to Castrodale, the commissioners in 2005 approved wildlife shelter as a use allowed by Special Use Permit and subsequent to that decision, the commissioners approved a Special Use Permit for Abell and Baker to operate a wildlife shelter. While the shelter was approved, it was county staff’s understanding that the shelter had never been operational on the property.
County Attorney Mary Deganhart told the commissioners that there are two main issues the county is facing. “What, if anything, should be done with what was approved?” Deganhart asked.
“Second, because there is an approved use, what should be done with that?” She added: “If we got an application it would be hard to review it.”
Deganhart told the commissioners that staff needs direction on how to deal with a wildlife shelter application, suggesting they could get rid of the use all together by asking the Planning Commission to amend the LUC to include a wildlife shelter (and a corresponding definition).
While possible solutions to those issues are worked out, a moratorium on wildlife shelters could be enacted.
“Is it an important piece to maintain in the code?” Deganhart asked the commissioners.
“There is value to the use,” Commissioner Heidi Albritton said. “It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t follow through on this. At the time I felt good about the decision that it could be a use in Ouray County. I would like to see staff work with the Planning Commission, go back and get the minutes and try to craft some definition for this use.”
Commissioner Keith Meinert agreed with Albritton in that he would like to see staff pursue the “tightening” of the use’s language but keeping it in the code. How long that will take, he said, is what’s at stake.
“The question is one of timing,” Meinert said, questioning if a moratorium is needed to allow for more time. “The Planning Commission has a lot on its plate and a lot more going onto its plate. How long do you think it would take to go back through the minutes and discussions back in 2005 and work something up to get through to the Planning Commission?”
Castrodale said he didn’t believe it would take that long to get an idea of what the wildlife shelter definition was intended from the minutes and that staff would continue to research what went into that 2005 decision.