Ban on affordable housing in rural areas clears first hurdle
Aspen Times Staff Writer
The Pitkin County commissioners took a hesitant first step yesterday toward banning affordable housing units throughout most of the county.
The three board members present ” Jack Hatfield, Mick Ireland, and Patti Clapper ” voted unanimously to approve on first reading a land-use code amendment which precludes the development of dense affordable housing communities outside of the so-called urban growth boundaries (UGBs).
A second reading is set for Dec. 10 at 1 p.m.
The Urban Growth Boundary is an area extending from the city of Aspen downvalley past the Pitkin County airport. It has been designated as an area that is appropriate for more intense development, such as affordable housing.
While all three commissioners agreed that affordable housing is integral to a healthy resort community, debate centered around whether it belongs in rural communities.
From the outset, Hatfield offered his “full and unequivocal” support for the amendment, arguing that protection of the county’s rural areas from urban sprawl is a key facet of his politics.
Regarding the urban growth boundary, Hatfield said, “Sometimes in life you have to draw a line, and for me the line is clear.”
Ireland also offered his support for the amendment, declaring that concentrating development in the urban growth boundary is “the morally and environmentally right thing to do.”
Patti Clapper was more hesitant in her support, declaring that she will wait for the second reading of the amendment before offering her final judgment. She cited the city of Aspen’s reluctance to go ahead with affordable housing projects within the urban growth boundaries as a warning that affordable housing may have to be moved outside the urban lines.
“Focusing development inside the UGB is a dream,” Clapper said. “But it’s hard when other’s won’t dream with you.”
Dorothea Farris and Shellie Roy were not present at the meeting, so it is difficult to use yesterday’s vote to speculate on the final outcome.
The Woody Creek neighborhood, which is outside the UGB, sent a representative to the meeting to support the amendment. But representatives from Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority and the county Planning and Zoning Commission were present to express their opposition.
“Sprawl is like cholesterol; there is good and bad,” Peter Martin of the Planning and Zoning Commission said. “If it’s sensitively done, development can be good for us.”
In the back of everyone’s mind during the discussion was the recent fiasco of the proposed development of affordable housing units in the W/J Ranch near Woody Creek.
In 1998, developer John Musick proposed building a small-city of 778 affordable housing units on the ranch. When he didn’t get what he wanted, he threatened to file defamation suits against county commissioners.
“Unfortunately, without this amendment we are open to what can only be described as blackmail,” Ireland said. “There are unethical people out there who could threaten inappropriate development in rural areas unless they get paid off.”
Hatfield also emphasized that passing the amendment would not rule out all possibility of affordable housing outside the UGB, pointing out that developers always have the option to apply for a re-zoning.
“This amendment just insures that there’s another hoop for developers to have to go through,” he said.
The debate now rests on the city’s decision regarding Burlingame affordable housing project. The proposed housing, located off Highway 82 west of town, is within the urban growth boundary. On Dec. 9, the city council will discuss whether to go ahead with the development, which has been approved by city voters.
Clapper stated she would feel more comfortable voting for the amendment if she knew for certain that the city was going ahead with Burlingame.
All three commissioners expressed their intent to attend the city meeting and Ireland urged all those concerned to also attend.
[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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