Pitkin County eyes closing loophole in protective rules for sensitive lands
Ryan Summerlin June 17, 2014
The Pitkin County government will take steps today and Wednesday to close a loophole in its extensive land-use rules that allowed the large wedding Saturday on the back of Aspen Mountain and construction of temporary structures for the event.
In a work session today, Pitkin County commissioners will be asked by the community development staff to provide direction on whether to restrict large events just on lands zoned rural and remote, restrict events on all lands regardless of zoning, or set standards countywide and tailor special rules for more environmentally sensitive rural and remote lands.
Then, on Wednesday, commissioners will be asked to vote on a proposed emergency ordinance that would prohibit large gatherings in the Rural and Remote Zone District.
Saturday’s wedding of Alexandra Steel and James Scott on private property in Little Annie Basin required construction of a large platform to create a level surface on the hillside. Crews toiled for weeks to construct temporary structures that included 27,000-square-feet of scaffolding and tents, according to a county staff memo. They wrote that a chapel about 40-feet high was one of several temporary structures erected. Multiple industrial-sized generators were brought in to supply power for the event, attended by hundreds of guests.
Property owner John Miller allowed use of the site for no charge, therefore the county couldn’t regulate the wedding as a temporary commercial use.
The emergency ordinance would prevent other large-scale events.
“This scenario has led to an unpermitted private gathering that has had widespread impacts on the community, environment and County-owned road — Little Annie Road,” the county staff memo said. “It has come to the attention of the staff that additional large-scale private parties/events are planned for other rural parts of Pitkin County later this summer. The (Board of County Commissioners) has directed staff to address this ‘loophole.’”
The draft emergency ordinance notes that “Rural and Remote Zoning was developed in the early 1990s to protect the cherished rural areas and backcountry of Pitkin County that are above 9,000 feet in elevation, and are absent of traditional utility service district, paved roads and have present sensitive sub-alpine ecosystems that would otherwise suffer under intense development activities.”
Permanent development in rural and remote areas is restricted to 1,000 square feet with a 20-foot height limit.
The emergency ordinance is designed to “halt the proliferation of high intensity, large scale, non-commercial uses and private events” in the district.
The commissioners are scheduled to review the proposed emergency ordinance at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Rio Grande Meeting Room behind the courthouse.
Once the emergency ordinance is in place, the county will consider amendments to its land-use code for long-term regulation of big events. The commissioners will launch that process by providing the community development staff with direction at a work session meeting from 1 to 2:30 p.m. today in the Rio Grande Meeting Room.
Both meetings are open to the public.