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Artifacts pose land-use issue in Pitkin County

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
Pitkin CountyA stone artifact from a midvalley property, as pictured in a report by Eagle-based Metcalf Archaelological Consultants Inc.
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ASPEN – Archaeological artifacts scattered on a rural midvalley property, and the landowners’ request that Pitkin County deem the site unsuitable for development, tripped up county commissioners Wednesday.

The property’s owners, David Brown and Jody Anthes, have asked that the parcel be deemed a constrained site, which means the site is undevelopable or severely constricted under the county’s land-use code. They have offered to place the parcel on the county’s historical register and are seeking two transferable development rights, which they could sell to recoup some of their investment in the property. Development rights on the parcel would be extinguished.

While constrained lots occasionally result in such an outcome, the nature of the constraint – a collection of tools and fragments that led an archaeological consultant to deem the site worthy of the National Register of Historic Places – left commissioners with more questions than answers.



“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first-ever application in Pitkin County involving an archaeological site. We don’t have a road map to follow,” said planning consultant Mitch Haas, representing the applicants.

Commissioners ultimately delayed further deliberation until June 13 and requested a visit to the site in the meantime.



Suzanne Wolff, the county’s senior planner, said she paid a visit to the property last week.

“It’s pretty fascinating to see how much stuff is scattered around on the ground out there,” she said.

According to Eagle-based Metcalf Archaelological Consultants Inc., the artifacts likely date back 1,000 years or more.

“The high density of formal tools as well as all stages of tool manufacture could indicate a long occupation of the site,” the firm’s report said. Its high-elevation setting also makes the site unique, the consultant concluded.

The county’s Community Development Department staff, however, recommended that the application be denied without further investigation into the significance of the site and a proposal for its future. A spot for a home on the parcel was approved in 1999, according to Wolff, and remains developable under the county’s code.

The artifacts cover about 80 percent of the building envelope, Brown countered. The couple, aware of the artifacts, purchased the property last year when it appeared that it would be sold, in order to protect it.

“We felt like we had to do something to save it,” Brown said.

The couple borrowed most of the parcel’s purchase price with a short-term loan and now needs to recoup that outlay or put the property back on the market, Haas explained.

“To me, step one is take away the development pressure,” he said, urging commissioners to grant the transferable development rights, which can be sold for development rights elsewhere. Transferable development rights are, for example, purchased to increase house size beyond what would otherwise be allowed by the county code.

Commissioner Rob Ittner said he was “completely fascinated” by the historic aspect of the property, but he and his fellow commissioners voiced concerns.

Commissioner Rachel Richards pondered the risk of looting on the private property. Typically, a preservation plan for a historic resource is part of a land-use approval that includes transferable development rights, she added. No such plan for the long-term protection of the artifacts yet exists.

Their ultimate value may be best realized with their removal for study elsewhere, in which case the property would no longer be constrained, the county’s historic preservation officer, Suzannah Reid, noted in a memo to commissioners.

Commissioner George Newman suggested other parts of the county likely contain such sites and voiced concern about setting the precedent of issuing TDRs whenever one comes to light.

But Haas argued the property cannot be developed with a 5,750-square-foot house and meet the county code’s requirements regarding development within archaeological resource areas. The code requires that damage to such sites be minimized and that the proposed development activity enhance the site. Instead, the resources will be damaged or destroyed if the property is not protected, Haas argued.

“The resource is completely irreplaceable,” he said.

If the county decides to act, Richards suggested the purchase of a conservation easement on the property with open space funds might be a logical step toward the site’s preservation.

janet@aspentimes.com


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