Artifact preservation a big factor in land-use deal
June 28, 2012
ASPEN – Without a plan to protect archaeological artifacts scattered about on a rural Pitkin County property, county commissioners balked Wednesday at providing the owners of the land with a means to recoup their investment in the lot, short of allowing its development.
Commissioners continued to wrestle with a request from property owners David Brown and Jody Anthes to declare the site constrained – undevelopable or severely restricted under the county’s land-use code – and issue two transferable development rights that the couple could sell to offset the money they say they sank into the property in order to protect the artifacts. The lot is adjacent to their home.
The transferable development rights, or TDR, program sterilizes a property from development by allowing development rights associated with it to go elsewhere. A buyer of a TDR, for example, can gain an additional residential square footage beyond what the county code would otherwise allow.
Granting Brown and Anthes two transferable development rights, however, doesn’t guarantee protection of the multitude of stone tools, arrow points and other artifacts that are scattered on the ground, Commissioner Rachel Richards said. A consultant has estimated their age at 1,000 to 2,000 years old.
“We could issue the TDRs and then all the arrowheads could be collected off the site and sold,” she said. “We don’t have a preservation plan.”
Commissioners paid a visit to the site earlier this month, leaving Commissioner Michael Owsley impressed, while Commissioner Jack Hatfield said he wasn’t sure how much meaning to assign the site.
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“I personally had never been on a site that was essentially covered with artifacts,” Owsley said. “I found it thrilling.”
He challenged his colleagues to find a way to ensure its protection.
“From my point of view, it’s up to us to do something about it,” he said.
“I’d have to say this application really pains me,” Richards said. “I really wish there was something more we could do, but I don’t really find the TDR program to be the vehicle to preserve it.”
The site is worthy of the National Register of Historic Places, according to archaeological consulting firm Metcalf Archaelological Consultants Inc., and the applicants have offered to place the site on the county’s historic register.
“The high density of formal tools as well as all stages of tool manufacture could indicate a long occupation of the site,” the consultants concluded.
With only three commissioners present Wednesday, the application was tabled until July 11 for consideration by the full board. The applicants and their planning consultant, Mitch Haas, were encouraged to come up with a proposal for preservation of the artifacts.
Cataloging and removing them for display in a museum has been suggested as one route to ensure their preservation and allow development of the 43-acre property. The artifacts are concentrated in the spot where a home could most logically be developed, according to Brown. A homesite on the parcel was approved in 1999.