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January 6, 2013
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Pitkin County offers extra space to make homes more accessible

ASPEN - Pitkin County has created exemptions to its strict limits on home sizes for the sort of space that most people probably hope they'll never need.

New to the county's land-use code, after final approval last month by county commissioners, are floor-area exemptions for new and existing homes to improve their accessibility to those with physical disabilities.

The allowances aren't just for the occupants of the residence; the added floor space is available to those who want to make their home accessible to friends or family members, as well. It's about "visit-ability" as well as accessibility, according to the county.

"During the meetings, we heard from many people - somebody has a mother who has needs, a lot of people know people who have needs," said Joanna Schaffner, county zoning officer.

Count Merle Rambo among them. He's an architect who spends much of his time in Omaha, Neb., these days but has purchased a home in the Aspen-area subdivision of Mountain Valley, which he intends to make his residence.

He appealed to the county to create an exemption from its floor-area calculations to accommodate certain accessibility standards - not for himself, he said, but for others who will use the home, which he intends to remodel with accessibility in mind.

His request spawned a yearlong effort to draft and approve code provisions that apply to not just his home, or his subdivision, but throughout the unincorporated areas of the county.

"There are so many homes that have been built to the max," he said. "You'd have to tear down part of the home just to build an elevator."

Previously, the land-use code would not have permitted an elevator in a residence that was already at its maximum allowed floor area, Schaffner confirmed.

"You couldn't do it," she said.

Now, the code makes allowances for elevator installation, enlarging bathrooms, improving access into various rooms and access from a parking area to the home's entrance. In addition, limited encroachment into road and yard setbacks is permitted for access ramps, and a 50-square-foot addition to an accessory structure is allowed for a bath facility.

For new and existing homes that are limited in size by what's called a floor-area ratio (the permitted floor area is based on the size of the lot), 350 square feet of added space is available to make the residence compliant with the American National Standard related to accessibility. In addition, for existing residences, there are square footage allotments for stairs/ramps and elevators.

For new homes that are subject to the county's 5,750-square-foot cap on home size, no added square footage is available for improvements except for installation of an elevator.

"This is not about living space," Rambo said. "It's very carefully aimed at providing the ability to get in and out of the living space."

As an architect, Rambo said he's been involved in a number of projects in which accessibility was a consideration. While most people won't become permanently handicapped, many will experience temporary challenges during their lifetime or have a loved one who faces accessibility issues, he contends.

"This is really a partnering between the county and its residents to recognize access is a basic right," he said.

Schaffner expects to soon see building-permit applications for the first two residences that will take advantage of the new exemptions - Rambo's home renovation and construction of a new house outside of Woody Creek that a handicapped youngster will call home. The code amendment takes effect 30 days after its Dec. 19 adoption.

New or remodeled homes that use the floor-area exemptions will be subjected to covenant agreements with the county that keep the improvements in place and make it clear that the added floor area goes away if the house is razed and the property is redeveloped.

Under the newly adopted code amendment, an entire house must be made accessible to make use of the extra floor area; still to come is a provision to allow partial improvements -only on the ground level, for example.

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 7, 2013 07:47AM Published Jan 6, 2013 11:08PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.