Angry ranchers storm out of meeting
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A handful of ranchers stormed out of a meeting Wednesday night in protest of one county commissioner’s opinion.
Bill Fales, Bob Perry and Carol Craig, all of whom own large, undeveloped tracts of land in Pitkin County, stood up in the middle of a meeting on proposed changes to the county zoning rules and walked out in a show of indignation.
The ranchers, who have been chastising the county for impinging on what they believe to be their property rights, apparently didn’t care for some of the comments made by County Commissioner Mick Ireland.
Ireland was responding directly to statements that Fales and Perry have made over the last several months that challenge the fairness of the proposed changes to the land-use code.
The gist of Ireland’s statement was that the new rules are not likely to diminish property values, and that the land-use history of Pitkin County suggests property values will go up.
Ireland also pointed out that ranchers receive considerable tax breaks and subsidies – both direct cash payments and indirect benefits like low-cost grazing on public lands – that are not shared by the general public.
“I’m not convinced that a large parcel would be worth less today with 100-acre lots,” Ireland said.
Although 35-acre subdivision would be allowed under the county’s latest proposal, development potential would be limited in size and forced to go through the growth management quota system.
Owners of large parcels can get around growth management and be permitted to build larger homes – up to 5,750 square feet – if they agree to limit development to one home per 100 acres. They also get long-term approvals and receive one transferable development right with each building allotment.
Ireland said larger house sizes, exemption from growth management review and approvals that are good for up to 20 years make up for any loss in value that might occur from the new rules. He reckoned that the $10,000 or so per acre that undeveloped ranch land in Pitkin County currently fetches on the open market will not change.
“I just don’t see how this is a takings,” Ireland said.
Fales and Perry have been adamant in their opposition to proposed changes in the land-use code that would make it more difficult to carve up their holdings into 35-acre lots that could then be developed with large houses. Both have said that the county government’s goal to direct development away from a pattern of 35-acre lots, which are allowed under state law, is unfair and constitutes a “takings.”
Takings is a legal term that refers to the loss of property that results from government appropriation or legislation. It’s original reference in American law can be found in the final clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
Ireland went on to note that ranchers in Pitkin County have benefited heavily from land-use limits implemented in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. “I don’t believe that ranchers have suffered as a result of the existing growth management quota system. I believe it has accelerated their value,” Ireland said.
When Ireland brought up points that Fales or Perry didn’t like hearing, they began to interrupt him.
Fales noted that the county line between Garfield and Pitkin counties runs directly through his 560-acre parcel in the Crystal River Valley, although he left before he was able to finish his point.
“You’re comparing apples and oranges,” Perry said in criticism of Ireland’s comments on agricultural subsidies.
After Ireland replied that he had not interrupted the ranchers when they spoke and requested the same courtesy, Fales stood up, put on his cowboy hat and walked out of the Aspen City Council chambers. Perry and Craig promptly followed suit. They did not return that night.
On Thursday, Fales sent an e-mail to four of five county commissioners apologizing for the disruption. Ireland was the only commissioner not named.
“Dear Patti, Shellie, Dorothea and Jack:
“I did not mean any disrespect to the four of you by my leaving at last night’s meeting. I apologize if I caused any disruption. I was, however, unwilling to sit through a long list of accusations, which I knew that no one would be given time to refute …
“The issues surrounding this zoning proposal are complicated enough. Let’s not muddy the water with lots of extraneous controversies.”
After the ranchers left, Ireland noted that Bob Perry took out an advertisement criticizing the county and its employees for the latest land-use code rewrite. Ireland said Perry’s ad portrayed the county employees, volunteers and elected officials as do-gooders who can do no good, using a quote that originally referred to Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.
“When you have ads in the paper comparing you to criminals and thieves, I think you’re accountable for that,” Ireland said after the meeting.
Two ranchers who have been intimately involved in the code amendment debate, Pat Fales and Roz Turnbull, did not follow Fales’ lead and remained at the meeting until it ended at about 7 p.m.
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The Roaring Fork School District began its transition of bringing students back to school for in-person learning on Monday, starting with K-3. If all goes well, grades 5-8 will start Oct. 26 and high school students on Nov. 2.