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Emma parrot refuge denied permit
May 7, 2004
The parrots are still in peril.
A regional planning commission for Eagle County denied a parrot sanctuary's application for a special-use permit on Thursday, leaving the nonprofit wondering if it would have to leave the Roaring Fork Valley to continue its parrot-rescue operations.
The Gabriel Foundation, located in Emma, is dedicated to taking in abandoned and neglected parrots, caring for them and trying to find them new homes. But the sanctuary straddles the Pitkin-Eagle county line, and both counties claim the sanctuary is an unacceptable use of the property.
The Roaring Fork Planning Commission is an advisory board to the Eagle Board of County Commissioners. Coral Dillon, a local outreach coordinator for the Gabriel Foundation, said the foundation will now take its case to the Eagle County Commissioners, even without the planning commission's recommendation.
"This is not the end of this," she said after the decision was made. "They only make recommendations, so now we go to the Eagle County Commissioners. It'll be up to Julie [Murad, Gabriel Foundation founder] in the long run about how far to pursue this."
Since Pitkin County won't allow any part of the operation within its boundaries, the foundation is trying to locate all of its facilities in Eagle County and obtain a special-use permit for its operations. But there is a dispute over the exact location of the county line, so the nonprofit is unsure how much operating space it actually has.
According to Eagle County planner Cliff Simonton, "the issue of the county line is still a moving target." Eagle's County's geographical information system, or GIS, data puts the county line at the backside of an existing residence on the foundation's property.
But data provided by a surveyor in the past puts the line farther north, significantly reducing the amount of land in Eagle County that the foundation sits on. The planning commission had a number of concerns about the proposed plan at the site, and felt that it's the Foundation's responsibility to find the exact location of the county line.
"I'm on your side, but the additional information is woefully inadequate, and I'm a little insulted," said commission member Mary Holley. "The key is to find out where the county line is, and if you were that dedicated, you should have stepped up and found it."
Gabriel Foundation staff, however, argued that it's not their responsibility to determine the county line. "The county should know where the line is, not us," said foundation staff member Judy Hampton.
Other concerns included bringing the aviary into compliance as a commercial workspace, providing adequate parking spaces for staff and visitors and finding a safe location for a septic system.
Dillon said she and fellow staff members are "heartbroken." But she did acknowledge that the planning commission doesn't take issue with the mission of the foundation itself.
"Nobody doubts the benefit of the foundation," she said. "It's a NIMBY issue- that's what it is."
A handful of residents from the foundation's neighboring subdivision claim that the foundation's numerous parrots make a tremendous racket when they're recreating in outdoor cages. The planning commission asked the foundation to provide noise studies from the area to help them make a decision about the issue.
Terrill Knight, the planner hired by the Gabriel Foundation to help bring the organization into compliance, presented results of studies that were taken on April 14 and 26. A noise-mitigation company hired by the foundation reported that normal conversation comes in at 60 to 70 decibels, and that when the Foundation's birds were outside on April 26, the noise came in at 61 decibels.
"Most of this noise is probably from Emma Road and Highway 82," Knight said. But on April 14, Knight said the decibel level at the Gabriel Foundation was up to 81 decibels, since Foundation founder Julie Murad's personal birds were outside in a separate cage, as well.
A staff member for the nonprofit confirmed that Murad owns roughly 35 birds kept in her home. But the noise-mitigation group that performed the study had suggestions on how to reduce the noise level between 10 and 15 decibels, with the addition of some sound-buffering blankets on some of the outdoor flights, and some sound-mitigating walls in the area.
Commission members Robert Adams and Kim Johnson moved to approve the special-use permit under the condition that the Foundation take care of their concerns, but their motion failed. The three remaining commissioners, Anthony Vagnuer, Mary Holley and Jim Wahlstrom voted to deny the application.