A Pitkin County asset known for ‘telling it like it is,’ Houben to retire this summer

Pitkin County Community Development Director Cindy Houben said she will retire this summer after nearly 40 years with the county. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

After nearly 40 years helping shape, shepherd and sustain unincorporated Pitkin County, longtime Community Development Director Cindy Houben announced her retirement Wednesday.

“I’m 65 years old!” Houben said when asked why this year will be her last with the county. “While I still have energy and I have my health I want to get out there and play a little bit.”

Houben’s retirement — set for July 1 — marks the third time in as many months this year that a longtime Pitkin County department head has called it a career. Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos Caudill announced her retirement starting April 1 and Human Services Director Nan Sundeen stepped down earlier this month.

Houben’s reasons — a need to enjoy and experience life around Aspen and Pitkin County while her health and quality of life remains good — also echo the reasons cited by those two other fixtures of Pitkin County professional life.

“I still have a lot of energy around Pitkin County and community development, but I know you gotta call it sometime,” she said. “I think it’s just time for me to turn over the reins to someone else and hope there’s new creative juices out there.”

Originally from Alabama, Houben first came to the area out of college in 1980 and worked for the Bureau of Land Management in Glenwood Springs, then for Garfield County before heading upvalley to Aspen in 1985 to work as a planner for the joint Aspen/Pitkin County Planning Department, according to a Pitkin County press release Wednesday.

She spent 10 years as a planner before assuming the role of Pitkin County’s Community Development director in 1995, when the departments split into two separate entities.

Since then she has taken a hands-on approach to growth-management, land-use regulation and the preservation of the county’s backcountry — including overseeing the implementation of the Rural and Remote zoning district — that will serve as her legacy, according to the release.

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper has known and worked with Houben for 25 years and praised her efforts over the last quarter century to protect the natural environment, work toward renewable energy possibilities and, perhaps, most importantly “telling it like it is.”

“She never stepped back from telling the board (of commissioners) something we didn’t want to hear,” Clapper said Wednesday. “She is smart, she is compassionate and she really cares about this community as a whole. Cindy has been able to do so much; she is irreplaceable.”

When Houben was inducted into the College of Fellows for the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2018, Houben was the first of only two female Coloradans inducted into the program.

“Cindy has brought vision, leadership, Southern charm and her passion to Pitkin County Community Development over her distinguished career,” Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said in Wednesday’s release. “(She) will be greatly missed, and I look forward to celebrating her service as she moves to this next chapter in her life.”

After she steps down as director July 1, Houben will remain on a part-time basis until the end of the year. But after that, it’s time to fully relax, she said.

She plans on staying in Aspen and taking advantage of all the things she hasn’t had enough time for as a busy department head, including summer music options, functions at the Aspen Institute, hiking, biking and “all the things I’ve only been able to scratch the surface of over the years.”

Houben also said she has a bucket list of things she wants to do and places she wants to go, though she didn’t want to divulge them in the newspaper.

“I’m excited about (retirement),” Houben said. “I’m excited about not being too serious about anything for a while.”