Artifacts plan wins Pitkin County nod
October 25, 2012
ASPEN – A pair of midvalley landowners won a commitment from Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday that will allow them to preserve a site littered with prehistoric artifacts and, ideally, recoup the money they sank into the property to prevent its development.
The arrangement is unique in the annuals of county land use, where the issuance of transferable development rights has never before been used as a means to preserve archaeological resources – in this case stone tools, spear points, fragments and the like.
Under the arrangement, the 43-acre parcel will be declared constrained – undevelopable or severely restricted under the county’s land-use code. The property will be sterilized from development and the owners will receive two transferable development rights that they can sell to buyers seeking additional development rights elsewhere. One can, for example, gain residential square footage beyond what is otherwise allowed by zoning with the purchase of one or more transferable development rights.
This year, sales of transferable development rights have ranged from $115,000 to $150,000, according to the county’s Community Development Department.
While some commissioners and county staffers weren’t keen on the idea of transferable development rights initially, they’ve been convinced by the input of experts from the office of the Archeologist of Colorado and the nonprofit Archaeological Conservancy.
“When we first came in, we knew we had an archaeological site, but I don’t think we knew what we were looking at here,” said land planner Mitch Haas, representing property owners David Brown and Jody Anthes. “We knew we had artifacts. None of us knew we had 8,000 years’ worth of artifacts here from three different periods.”
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While commissioners agreed to issue two transferable development rights once a slew of details are finalized, they rejected Brown’s request to receive one now to help offset consultant expenses and a loan payment for the purchase of the parcel.
A cultural-resource management plan must be finalized and a conservation easement for the parcel adopted before the transferable development rights are issued. The county Open Space and Trails program and Archaeological Conservancy will hold the easement jointly.
The conservancy has drafted a management plan, but commissioners had a host of questions about its provisions. What has been drafted is merely a starting point, said Dale Will, county open space and trails director.
“I think once we go through the management plan, we’re going to see a lot of things we have to pin down,” he said.
One glaring issue for commissioners was a recommended five-strand, barbed-wire fence with locked gates to enclose the site. Commissioners called for a wildlife-friendly fence, and Brown suggested a three-rail concrete fence made to look like a split-rail cedar fence. He estimated that it would cost $10,000 to $20,000 and asked if the county would be willing to help with the expense.
Commissioners expressed no interest in doing so, but Will predicted that funding sources could be found, possibly including donors with an interest in archaeological causes.
The fence, he added, will establish a trespassing boundary on what is already private property rather than keep looters at bay. Protection of the artifacts was a concern for commissioners, though they also want the site to be available to the public through supervised tours.
“Just how much public exposure do we want to have up there?” asked Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “We want to ensure the resource that’s up there stays there.”
The draft management plan suggests a committee be formed and that a land manager be appointed to oversee the property’s use. The plan outlines procedures for conducting research and educational programs at the site and excavation of artifacts, if such work occurs.
Brown said he’d like to serve on the committee. Will predicted that open space officials will work with the conservancy to oversee the property.
“My anticipation is we’ll plug their expertise in with our presence on the ground,” he said of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based conservancy.
Continued involvement by county staffers does not conflict with the open space program’s charter, assistant county attorney Chris Seldin assured commissioners.
Haas credited Will for getting the expert input that helped put commissioners at ease with the proposal to sterilize the property and compensate Brown and Anthes through the issuance of transferable development rights, but Will said it’s Brown who deserves the praise.
“David really is the one who saw this as something that should be preserved first,” Will said.