Ag committee plan comes under fire |

Ag committee plan comes under fire

Jeremy Heiman

A group made up of people who heavily chastised the county whenit approved the Rural and Remote downzoning regulations is nowfeeling heavy heat for its plan to preserve agricultural lands.The county’s Agricultural Committee is under fire because criticssay its proposal preserves agricultural property at the expenseof other landowners.The county is not anywhere close to adopting the plan – calledthe Rural Lands Overlay District – but it has already drawn criticismfrom realtors, developers and other landowners in Pitkin County.One part of the committee’s proposal would restrict new housesthroughout the county to 5,000 square feet, a limit that couldonly be exceeded with the purchase of a transferable developmentright (TDR) severed from agricultural land.Attorney Paul Taddune, who represents the Starwood Homeowners’Association and other clients, believes the home size restrictionis illegal. “That’s a taking,” he said. Presently, homes of upto 15,000 square feet are allowed in the county with no specialprovisions.Further, Taddune said, the regulation would be a devaluation oflocal property. He roughly calculated that existing Starwood lotsmight lose as much as $1 billion in value. “If you’re going to do that, there should be some compensation,”he said.Taddune warned that a rush for land-use approvals might ensueif it appears the county will eventually enact the proposal. “Peoplewill want to bank development rights if they know they’ll losethem in the future,” he said.Aspen realtor Marc Friedberg said he supports saving agricultureand open space in Pitkin County. But the Agricultural Committee’sproposal is not the right way to accomplish that goal, he believes.”The big flaw is it [preserves agricultural land] on the backsof every other property owner in Pitkin County.” And not enoughTDRs will be available for all lot owners and potential home builders,he speculated.”It’s going to cause a lot of ill will and confusion,” Friedbergsaid. “I don’t like this TDR thing. It’s another layer of bureaucracy.”He said there aren’t enough large building lots left in PitkinCounty to make use of the TDRs. “It doesn’t make sense to introducea plan for which there’s no application.”Michael Hoffman, an Aspen land-use attorney, said laws governingthe crafting of regulations require a nexus, or connection, betweenthe regulation and the method of regulation. That’s not presentin the Rural Lands Overlay District, he said. Downzoning one type of land to create a better market for TDRssold off another type of land in order to preserve that land probablydoesn’t fulfill that requirement, he said.Hoffman also questions whether enough rural properties exist inthe county to provide TDRs for all the landowners who want tobuild homes larger than 5,000 square feet.The county’s planning department has reportedly decided to hirea consultant to do an economic study on the potential effectsof the plan. After that is completed, Friedberg said, a largercommittee should be convened that is made up of a better crosssection of the community than the Agricultural Committee. Friedberg suggested a less complex plan that would help PitkinCounty ranchers keep their land by granting them building approvalsin an expedited approval process. They could be allowed to selloff perhaps 10 percent of their land in order to keep the restand prevent further development, he suggested.”The community wins and the owners win,” he said. “You don’t gethundreds and hundreds of units on rural lands.”Taddune also said a simpler plan should include development rightsfor ranch owners. “I think it’s possible to reward open space owners by grantingmore development rights on their land if they cluster,” he said.But he said both the county’s current zoning and Colorado’s propertytax structure discourage preservation of open space.”The assessment rate is two times for unimproved property whatit is for improved property in Colorado,” he said. “That’s noincentive to keep open space.The Agriculture Committee, which first convened in January 1996,unveiled its plan in December to offer ranch owners a new zoningoption through a land-use code amendment. Ultimately, the countyhopes to create some sort of ordinance to preserve some of theremaining 30,000 acres of agricultural lands in the county.

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