A quiet end to the W/J Ranch saga | AspenTimes.com
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A quiet end to the W/J Ranch saga

Eben Harrell

A nearly 20-year dispute between developers and Pitkin County is nearing resolution, as county commissioners last week approved on first reading a proposal for the development of a ranch located between Woody Creek and McLain Flats.The W/J Ranch, named after its original owner, Wilton Jaffe, has been the site of one of the longest-running and contentious land-use disputes in Pitkin County history. Various proposals for development, including a proposal in the late 1990s by John Musick for nearly 800 units of affordable housing, have been denied by Pitkin County. After 20 years of wrangling, the county seems likely to adopt a proposal for construction of five free-market family houses and two affordable-housing units, in partial exchange for a scattering of conservation easements on the property.’It’s quite extraordinary. A plan that once included 775 units has been whittled down to seven,” said Stan Clauson, a planner who works for Lowe developers. “That’s 1 percent of the original proposal.”Unlike previous applications, the current proposal has stirred up very little opposition from either neighbors or elected officials. The massive proposal of the late 1990s featured packed hearings, shouting matches and illegal secret meetings by elected officials, as the community grappled for ways to deny the charismatic and flamboyant Musick’s application.The W/J Ranch is split into two sections – an upper and lower bench. The current proposal will locate five free-market lots on the upper bench and an additional two affordable-housing units on the lower. Currently there exists 62 affordable-housing units on the lower bench. Only five houses in the 100-acre area were proposed because the ranch is coded RS-20 by the county, which restricts development to one unit per 20 acres. The proposal also includes several conservation easements on the property. Two parcels equaling 40 acres along the Roaring Fork River will be donated to Pitkin County. Another 30-acre parcel on the lower bench will be given to Aspen Valley Land Trust. And two parcels totaling 86 acres will be maintained as irrigated meadows by the Whitestar Homeowners Association.The Woody Creek Caucus, which has opposed previous development proposals, will likely offer its support when the current proposal goes before the commissioners for second reading, and, in all likelihood, final approval on Dec. 1. The commissioners approved the latest proposal on first reading on Nov. 17.The caucus will likely be a signatory on the conservation easements, mandating that in the future the easements cannot be lifted without caucus approval.”The caucus is finally ready to support this project,” caucus leader Michael Owsley said. Owsley was elected a county commissioner this month and will assume duties in January.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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