Attorney sees no conflict in R&R rewrite
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely has given the task of rewriting the land-use rules for backcountry development to an assistant whose family owns large tracts of land on the backside of Aspen Mountain.But Ely does not see any conflict of interest in having Assistant County Attorney Marcella Larsen rewrite the land-use code’s section on Rural and Remote zoning, despite the fact that her family owns 120 acres in a Rural and Remote district.”No, there’s no conflict,” Ely said. “First of all, the changes are not going to have any effect on her family’s property up there, and second, she’s doing what I tell her to do – I’ve given her an assignment and she’s doing it.”Larsen has spent the last month revising the zoning to allow homes as large as 2,500 square feet. The changes are the result of a 4-1 decision last month by the Board of County Commissioners to amend the controversial rules and end what had, in effect, been a 1,000-square-foot size limit.In exchange for sterilizing at least 105 acres from future development, property owners can build a larger home. The new rules only affect people who already own significant amounts of land; developers aren’t allowed to buy up land in the backcountry in order to build larger homes, according to a copy of the revised land-use code.Larsen’s family has held the property atop Aspen Mountain for several decades under the names Urschel or Guenther. By Larsen’s own estimate, the property amounts to about 120 acres. One A-frame cabin is located on a 35-acre parcel, and the family has permission to tear it down and build a larger home on the site.But in exchange for the development approval, made in 1994 before Rural and Remote zoning was created, the county required most of the family’s property to be sterilized from future development. Some of the development rights on top of Aspen Mountain were relocated to the Tiehack area at Buttermilk, Ely said, making it one of the first instances in which development rights were transferred from one area of the county to another.Larsen said a deed restriction will go into place once a final plat is approved and the family begins redeveloping the A-frame site. What remains unclear is what happens if the development approval lapses and the deed restriction is never enacted.Ely said that while he is confident no conflict of interest exists with Larsen’s work on Rural and Remote zoning, he does not allow her to work on legal issues that directly affect the Aspen Skiing Co. Along with owning adjacent property on Aspen Mountain, Larsen owns land elsewhere in the upper valley that is directly affected by Skico developments.The changes to Rural and Remote zoning were approved after the largest land holder on the backside of Aspen Mountain, Castle Creek Investors, applied to build a 2,400-square-foot home in a secluded meadow in Little Annie Basin. CCI owns between 750 and 800 acres of property in the area.After a four-decade effort to develop the property as a ski area ended in failure in the early 1990s, CCI – the third ownership group since 1959 – began looking for other uses.Other large landowners in the Aspen Mountain/Little Annie area include the Skico and the Paepcke Family Trust.
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