Aspen airport plan exempt from zoning
December 7, 2011
ASPEN – An envisioned new terminal and other future improvements at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport aren’t subject to the county’s zoning regulations. The land-use code does not apply, commissioners were told Tuesday in a briefing on how the review process will work as a new master plan for the airport takes shape.
Commissioners will approve the new master plan, which will dictate future development at the airport, but because the county is, in essence, the developer, none of the projects that could be built there will go through a typical land-use review.
As a result, land-use code requirements for worker housing won’t apply to the airport, though commissioners could decide some housing associated with the development is necessary, County Manager Jon Peacock said.
“It’s certainly within the discretion of the board,” he said.
A relatively new state law, clarified by a state Supreme Court ruling, essentially says governmental jurisdictions aren’t subject to local zoning regulations, explained Lance Clarke, deputy director of Community Development, after Tuesday discussion.
Rather, the airport projects will go through what’s called a Location and Extent Review before the Planning and Zoning Commission. It’s the first time anything approaching the magnitude of future airport improvements will go through the alternate process in Pitkin County, Clarke said. The 2004 airport master plan, as well as the recently completed runway extension, were both reviewed and approved under the land-use code process.
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The new master plan will be subject to a public hearing and approval by commissioners. After that, commissioners will dictate what goes forward for a Location and Extent Review by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“There’s nothing that will get built at the airport that doesn’t get Board of County Commissioner review and approval,” Clarke said.
Commissioners indicated that they are comfortable with the review process outlined Tuesday and the attempts at public outreach – some dictated by the Federal Aviation Administration – that have been employed. Public brainstorming sessions, open houses and reviews at each step of the master planning by a community advisory committee will be supplemented, starting next week, with small-group meetings involving homeowners’ associations and caucus groups, among others, said planning consultant Tim Malloy.
“This is like a road show,” he said.
“Is this enough to give you confidence that we’ve done what we need to do in the community to lay out the pros and cons of what we’re looking at?” Peacock asked.
Commissioner Rachel Richards suggested producing video footage of the inadequate, behind-the-scenes areas of the terminal building to show neighborhood groups, but Commissioner Michael Owsley disagreed with that approach.
“I think there’s a public perception with some within the community that this is growth for growth’s sake, that this is empire-building,” Richards said. “The main question I hear is, ‘Why not renovate the existing terminal a little bit?'”
The master plan, however, will address not just the terminal but additional general aviation facilities, a proposed parking garage – everything but the newly lengthened runway and taxiway.
The FAA will approve an Airport Layout Plan that designates spaces for future facilities as well as the forecast of future use of the airport, which will dictate the proposed facilities.
The master plan will include the estimated costs of the elements proposed within it and identify funding sources, said Jim Elwood, aviation director at the airport. Refinement of the plan is scheduled to continue through the winter and into spring.
“A lot of those [cost] numbers may initially look eye-popping, but they don’t all have to be done at once,” Peacock said of the improvements.
“For me, the biggest challenge in the whole process is the financial planning – how we’re going to pay for it all,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.
Federal funds have paid for the bulk of recent upgrades at the airport, but those monies won’t go to any worker housing that commissioners decide should be associated with the airport, Peacock said. What airport revenues could be used for housing, if any, is being assessed, commissioners were told.
The next round of master plan conceptual designs aren’t expected to be ready for review until mid-February or so, according to Elwood. A preferred alternative is expected to emerge in April or May, he said.
Go to http://www.aspenairportplanning.com for more on the master plan process to date.