BOCC gets ‘quiet’ look at code changes
February 21, 2002
When the Pitkin County commissioners meet for a work session today on a proposed rewrite of the land-use code, it will be the first time they’ve met alone to discuss the issues.It appears likely they will be taking stock of the proposal and process, both of which have veered off course.Until this week, the commissioners had been meeting jointly with the planning and zoning commissioners in formal hearings, where the new language was presented and voted upon in just four hours.The joint-meeting process worked reasonably well for two of the more arcane, though important, sections of the code – vesting and transferable development rights. But in November, once the county’s attorneys and planners unveiled their proposal for new zoning districts, things became harder to handle.There were protests from the outset. Landowners in rural Pitkin County, especially ranchers with large holdings, were remarkably unified in their opposition to the so-called resource conservation zone district.As proposed, the resource conservation district would sharply cut the development potential on large, open lands from what is currently allowed. It’s specifically designed to discourage property owners, whether developers or ranchers, from carving their land into 35-acre parcels for residential development. County planners say it is meant to be a transition zone between rural and remote zoning, where very little development is allowed, and the more developed areas of the county.The protest eventually grew beyond ranchers to include land-use consultants, both attorneys and private planners, and, finally, the county’s own planning and zoning commissioners. At a joint meeting last week, the P&Z said it needed more time to deliberate on the county’s proposal.State law gives the P&Z the power to bottle up the process, if it desires. The county commissioners aren’t able to act on any proposed change to the land-use code until the P&Z commissioners have made a formal recommendation.In a formal statement to the county commissioners at the Feb. 12 joint meeting, P&Z chairman Peter Martin reminded the commissioners about the law, which gives the P&Z first crack at changes to the land-use code. He also protested the fact that the P&Z had not been consulted about the language and concepts the county is proposing.”Our role has been minimized to such an extent that we have no more input or knowledge than members of the general public,” he said.The P&Z and the county commissioners agreed to put off a vote on the resource conservation zoning until each board could meet separately. The original schedule for the land-use code changes called for the process to be much further along by now. When the process began last fall, the county had planned to have it completed by late spring. The zone-district section is only the third of several sections of the code that are being rewritten.The P&Z met Tuesday night, and it was clear from the discussion that the planning commissioners had some serious problems with the proposed resource conservation zoning plan. A few commissioners suggested they start the process for rural zoning anew, scrapping the county-staff proposal and coming up with their own. Although the idea kept coming up throughout the two-hour meeting, the majority of planning commissioners agreed that they needed to work with the current proposal if they wanted to influence the commissioners.Ultimately, all of the planning commissioners agreed that carving the remaining rural lands into 35-acre ranchettes was a bad idea. But most had trouble with the carrot-and-stick methods contained in the resource conservation zone.Most of the planning commissioners agreed that the county was proposing too much stick and not enough carrot. For instance, nearly everyone on the commission had problems with the proposal to limit house sizes to 2,000 square feet whenever a developer carves a large piece of land into 35-acre lots. The zoning contains a way to build larger houses, up to 5,750 square feet, but it requires the developer to give up 65 percent of his development rights.Several planning commissioners thought the code should be written in a way that encourages landowners to voluntarily reduce the amount of development on their land.”If it’s truly voluntary, is anyone really going to come into it?” asked P&Z member Joe Krabacher. The commissioners continued to talk about the subject without coming to a consensus.The debate on other aspects of the resource conservation zone followed a similar pattern. The commissioners agreed to meet again next Tuesday, when they hope to come up with some formal suggestions for the county commissioners. The county commissioners’ meeting is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. today in their chambers.