Pitkin County commissioners seek code changes to thwart large events in specially zoned areas
Ryan Summerlin February 24, 2016
A loophole in a county zoning regulation that allowed a large, private wedding on Little Annie Basin on Saturday without a permitting process for the size and scale of the event could be addressed as early as Wednesday.
Pitkin County commissioners hope to correct a gap in the rural and remote zoning regulations, which allowed the wedding to avoid being considered a commercial event.
Because the landowner allowed the wedding to happen at no charge, there was no requirement for county approval on the size, scale, duration and intensity of the event. There was also no limitation on the construction of temporary structures, nor were there any limits on the size, dimensions, height or placement of the structures.
The county is seeking an emergency ordinance, which would take effect immediately, to address the issue as there have been rumors of other similar large events possibly being planned in Pitkin County this summer.
Pitkin County Community Development Director Cindy Houben and county planner Mike Kraemer addressed the commissioners Tuesday and presented three options for the commissioners to consider that addresses the rural and remote regulations loophole.
The rural/remote zone district is intended to conserve and protect the natural environment and its resources, while allowing for limited recreational uses and residential development. It also was intended to preserve the small scale, low-density backcountry character and lifestyle, retain undeveloped areas and allow for the transfer of development rights to areas that are more appropriate for development.
The first option presented was to prohibit the gathering of more than 25 people in a rural and remote zoned district and to change the definition of “temporary commercial use” by taking out the term “commercial” and requiring all temporary, short-term usage to require a permitting process.
The second option was to create a review and decision process for large, private gatherings that could be implemented in all zone districts, making it a countywide regulation.
The third option was a combination of the first two options, creating countywide regulations in all zone districts and specific regulations tailored to the rural and remote zoned district.
“If the preservation of the intent of the rural and remote zone district is sought against the possibility of a repeat of the event that happened this weekend,” said county attorney John Ely, “then the appropriate response is a moratorium against the issuance of any permits or approvals that might be necessary against structures or uses associated with occurrences outside of the dimensions of the zone district. An absolute prohibition is cleanest.”
An absolute prohibition would prohibit any planned events that require a permit. A moratorium is designed as a prohibition on activity or issuances of permits that would allow an activity or use to occur.
During the public comment section of the meeting, several local event planners spoke out against the implementation of any extreme regulations as other local events are already planned in rural and remote areas.
“There has never been a problem before because local companies have been respectful and supportive of the regulations that are in place,” said D. Seymour of The Aspen Branch wedding and party designers. “If the current loophole hadn’t been manipulated, Saturday’s wedding would have been scaled back to a proper size. The event business is a vital part of our local economy.”
County Manager Jon Peacock suggested putting firm guidelines on temporary structures in rural and remote zoned areas through an emergency ordinance, whether it’s a private or commercial event.
“If we could simply limit the size and close that loophole, events like the one that happened this weekend would be prohibited,” Peacock said. “We would have time, then, to work on some of the finer questions for both for the neighbors, event planners and everyone who’s a stakeholder in this.”
Ely said that the use of a moratorium isn’t uncommon when a loophole or gap is perceived within a regulation, as it allows for more time to amend the regulation in question.
“I would advise a moratorium of the issuance of any permits for any structures, temporary or permanent, that would be inconsistent with the dimensional and/or use requirements and limitations of the rural and remote zone district,” Ely said.
The Pitkin County Planning and Zoning commission also will weigh in on the options to deal with the rural and remote regulations. Any land-use code amendment requires a Planning and Zoning review and recommendation, as well as two readings at the county commissioners meetings.
Staff will take recommendations from the Tuesday night P&Z meeting and construct a resolution that reflects those recommendations for the 10 a.m. special commissioners meeting today. Ely will also put together a moratorium resolution for the commissioners to consider.
Nancy Snell, of Nancy Snell Events, a special events planner, said the Wednesday decision could affect several parties she’s working with that are already planned.
“With what we heard today, we could work within the county parameters,” she said. “It really makes me angry when people come from out of town and hold an event like the Saturday wedding that ruins things for the rest of us.”