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Battle is on for commissioner

Allyn Harvey

Ask Dorothea Farris if there is one vote she’d take back in her four years on the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners, and she’ll tell you she can’t think of any.

“One vote back? I don’t know. Everything we do, and I try to stay aware of it, is incremental,” she said.

Sure there have been a lot of votes, a fair number of which have been quite controversial. But the fact that she’s comfortable with the votes she’s taken and the policies that have resulted – even when she’s on the losing end – is a big reason Farris thinks she deserves another four years at the county’s helm.

“I think we on the BOCC have worked together in a way that allows it to be a policy committee, one that gives the county staff the room they need to implement and enforce those policies,” she said.

Farris, whose connection to Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley dates back to the 1960s, is seeking a second term as the District 5 county commissioner. But before she earns that right she needs to get by Martin Fiala, a Redstone resident who has some decidedly different points of view.

Fiala, for instance, is critical of the six-month moratorium on development applications enacted earlier this year while the county commissioners made significant change to the land use code, but Farris thinks things worked out just fine.

“The moratorium ended early and didn’t affect the construction business much at all from what I’ve seen and heard,” she said. “And even though we didn’t accomplish all that we set out to do, we accomplished a lot.”

The gulf between Farris and her opponent on transportation is also quite wide. The incumbent is a strong supporter of the proposal to form a valleywide transportation district, known as an RTA, to run buses from Rifle to Aspen, while her opponent is suspicious that it might be a back door to building a valleywide rail system.

The one major issue where Farris and Fiala share opinions is housing. Although there is plenty of business for builders of free-market housing, both would like to see more private enterprise in the affordable housing sector. But Farris also believes government has a role to play in the affordable housing puzzle, whether it’s funding projects whenever possible or supporting other government agencies in their quest to house employees.

As for why she’s running for a second term, Farris is typically specific. “I love it. It’s what I do. I love the debate, the information gathering and hearing people’s opinions,” she said.

“I have the time. I have the energy. I have a history in this valley; I’m strongly committed to this place and what it stands for.”

On the issues

Farris is not bashful about the accomplishments of the county commissioners, the county planning staff and the community at large during the exhaustive work on the land use code earlier this year.

She points out that the changes to the code that were made during the moratorium have simplified the review process considerably. “There were things we looked at and said, `That’s something that can be handled through administrative review, as long as the applicant has the right to appeal the decision to the BOCC.'”

She is also pleased with the 5,750-square-foot limit on new houses, noting that houses over a certain size increase the demand for domestic labor and the road impact fees that were added to the land use code. “The impact fees addressed the fact that county roads are affected in terms of wear and tear during construction projects. What this rule says is construction will pay its own way.”

In the near future, Farris says the county needs to continue implementing the agriculture overlay zone district designed to protect ranch land from development, revise the transferable development right program and ensure that the county’s historic preservation program protects buildings that are truly historic while not impinging on property rights.

She’s also hoping the near future will see the RFTA bus agency replaced with a valleywide rural transportation authority. Farris sees the creation of the multi-jurisdictional taxing district as critical to the valley’s long-term well-being.

“Four cents in taxes on $10 purchase is not going to break anybody, and it will provide a much better bus system,” she said of the proposal to spread the tax burden for bus service among seven separate communities between Aspen and Glenwood Springs. “Transportation is a shared responsibility, and it should be a shared cost.”

In answer to her opponent’s concern that the RTA might be a back door into rail, she points out that the amount of money needed to build a rail system requires voter approval. Farris says she’s mindful of the doubts that exist about the proposal to build a commuter rail system, but grateful that Pitkin County and other jurisdictions in the valley had the foresight to purchase the rail corridor.

She’s also happy with the county’s decisions around the North 40 affordable housing project across the highway from the airport. The project was developed by longtime local John McBride, who is best known for developing the airport business center.

“All the lots out there are sold, and people are already creating a neighborhood even before anything is built,” she said.

The county’s role in housing, she explained, is to support the development, whether by a private developer or pubic agency, of affordable housing when the location and cost make sense.

“We need to try keep it within the urban growth boundaries set out in the Aspen Area Community Plan and make sure it’s transit-oriented, so we’re not creating a lot of development that puts more traffic on the road,” she said.

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Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2000


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