New barn regulations win OK in Pitkin County
August 14, 2011
ASPEN – Now East Sopris Creek property owner John Clark can build the barn of his dreams.
While financing the structure remains a hurdle, the design he has sketched on paper is at least possible under Pitkin County’s land-use code.
After spending more than two years crafting and reviewing amendments that overhaul the county code related to agricultural buildings, county commissioners quickly voted 5-0 on Wednesday to adopt them.
For rural property owners in unincorporated Pitkin County, the new rules generally grant additional square footage that can be devoted to agricultural buildings, based on acreage. The building space is in addition to what is allowed for a home on a property – a key consideration.
The amended code also increases the allowed height for a barn from 20 feet, measured midway up a sloping roof, to 28 feet in most rural zone districts – a provision that pleases Clark. Some of the county’s classic old barns would not have been permitted, given their height, under
present-day rules before the latest amendments, county planners noted.
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While some of the code changes are geared to better accommodate functional agricultural buildings, the height issue was largely aesthetic.
“If I want to build a barn, I want it to look good,” Clark said.
The county’s most attractive barns, in his view, are generally older structures that have relatively steep roofs.
More recently, the county’s rules produced “squatty buildings” in the eyes of some critics, conceded Suzanne Wolff, the county’s senior planner.
Landowners also argued they needed more building space to devote to storing equipment and animals than what the code reasonably permitted and the county, more prone to clamping down on development than granting “exempt square footage” for extra building space, eventually agreed.
While some commissioners questioned whether much in the way of true agriculture – growing food – takes place in the county, the new rules are expected to help foster the county’s goal of preserving its rural character, even if that merely means horses and hay on many properties.
“If we want rural character and agricultural pursuits, the argument was that we should allow the facilities they [property owners] need and want, and that look appropriate on the landscape,” Wolff said.
Jan Martin, a representative of the Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus who had been integrally involved in the discussions, praised the outcome. The caucus initiated the code rewrite because its members found the old rules unworkable and wound up out of compliance, she said.
“It became apparent that there were a lot of people who had to ask for forgiveness for their agricultural structures,” she said. “It became obvious that the problem was with the code, not the people.”
One property owner reportedly had nine illegal structures – all of them horse shelters, or “loafing sheds” – three-sided, roofed structures that provide animals shelter from the elements.
Under the amended code, properties of more than 20 acres are permitted an unlimited number of loafing sheds of up to 300 square feet each. On smaller properties, one is permitted and others can be requested.
The amended regulations also set forth exempt square footage for hay storage buildings, barns and equipment storage structures, and ease the approval process for permitted structures.
An agricultural review committee will be appointed to advise the county planning staff on proposed buildings to ensure they are designed for agricultural purposes as opposed to “party barns” – the proverbial agricultural building outfitted with a hot tub.
“We’ve seen barns that are finished quite nicely,” Wolff said.
For example, a toilet and sink are permitted in barns, as well as a simple utility shower, but the size of the bathroom is limited. Marble finishes in a barn bathroom (it has happened before) are not what the county has in mind when it allows extra square footage for outbuildings, she said.
Also built into the ordinance approved by commissioners is a review of the new agricultural facilities that are built under the amended code four years from now, to see if it has produced what the county has in mind.