A thorny situation | AspenTimes.com

A thorny situation

It’s always a shame to see taxpayer money wasted, but it’s doubly detestable when two local taxpayer-funded entities wind up in litigation against each other.

Unfortunately, that could be exactly what happens if Pitkin County and the Aspen School District cannot reach a compromise on the School District’s proposed West Ranch affordable housing development near Woody Creek. It’s a thorny situation that has pit ted the integrity of the county’s land-use code against the cause of affordable housing, but we hope and believe that there’s a logical solution, if both parties are willing to give a little.

To their credit, the two sides have shown signs of being willing to work together. We hope they stick with it.

Here are the rough outlines of the situation. Nearly 10 years ago, the School District built 10 affordable housing units on the West Ranch parcel. The District still has an approval for a single-family home on the remainder of the property, but school officials recently came back to the county saying they wish instead to build another 12 affordable units. Problem is, since the original West Ranch units were completed, the county’s urban growth boundary has been adjusted, leaving West Ranch outside the area approved for new development. The county is understandably hesitant to rezone the parcel for more people, more traffic, more square footage.

But wait ” it gets even stickier.

School District officials say they don’t have to abide the county’s growth boundary, owing to a state law that exempts public schools from local zoning laws. And they have some impressive numbers to support their case for teacher housing. County officials, who are probably still feeling stung by the way the Grace Church in Emma walked all over their land-use code, beg to differ.

So what to do?

First of all, play nice. Stay out of court, at all costs.

Second, look for a “middle way” that respects the code but allows for affordable housing. Everyone agrees that the housing is need ed and, after all, there are already five duplexes on the site already, served by existing water, sewer and utilities. This is not pristine wilderness. It’s right off Upper River Road, in an area already marked by homes, power lines and a former railroad corridor.

We like Commissioner Rachel Richards’ idea of agreeing not to challenge the affordable housing, in exchange for a promise from school officials not to ride roughshod over the county code with any future housing projects.

This might not be the exact path, and we’ll leave it to public offi cials on both sides to craft the right compromise. But compromise they must. To end up in litigation, especially in a time of dwindling revenues, would be wasteful, arrogant and foolish.

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