Child Ranch project gets enthusiastic OK |

Child Ranch project gets enthusiastic OK

A development plan that places most of a 1,500-acre ranch off-limits to developers was embraced with enthusiasm by the Pitkin County Commissioners Wednesday.

The commissioners voted 5-0 in favor of an application to create seven 35-acre lots on the ranch owned by Bob Child and his six children.

The Child Ranch is located along the banks of Capitol Creek, next to the property owned by St. Benedict’s Monastery. Bob Child, who served four terms as a county commissioner in the 1970s, ?80s and ?90s, has owned the land since the early 1960s.

The application allows one home up to 5,000 square feet on each of the lots, which will be divvied up among the family members. The remaining 1,256 acres on the ranch will be downzoned from a residential classification to Rural and Remote. That zoning places strict limits on development potential in exchange for the creation of transferable development rights that can be sold to augment development elsewhere in the county.

The Child family is planning to use some of the transferable development rights to secure the right to develop the seven lots. They have also agreed to extinguish the unused transferable development rights and place a conservation easement over the 1,256 undeveloped acres in exchange for $3 million.

The Child’s land-use application was developed with assistance from the Western Colorado Agricultural Heritage Foundation, based in Carbondale. The conservation easement is being paid for by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails fund.

“Of the many, many land-use applications I’ve reviewed on the Snowmass Village council and this board, this is probably the single best I’ve ever seen,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield.

“It just works well,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “It’s in the interest of the community, the neighborhood and the family.”

Approval of the Child application came a month later than expected, because it could not be voted on until the county amended its regulations governing development in wildfire zones.

Jeanie Child, Bob Child’s youngest daughter, wants to build a home on a hill known as Nose Bleed Hill, covered with scrub oak and other flammable flora. County regulations currently prohibit development in areas like Nose Bleed Hill that have been deemed severe wildfire hazard zones.

@ATD Sub heds:Changing the rules

@ATD body copy: The commissioners have been considering changes to wildfire and other environmental hazard regulations since last spring, when they reversed a longstanding policy of exempting subdivisions from compliance if they were approved before the mid-1970s.

That reversal came with an application by Bonnie and Billy Ray Eubanks, who wanted to build a large home in a rock-slide zone on Shadow Mountain. The Eubanks land is in an older subdivision, but the commissioners weren’t willing to allow their home to be built in a rock-slide zone that would be off-limits to development in a newer subdivision.

As with severe wildfire zones, the county’s environmental hazard rules, commonly known as 1041 regulations, bar development in areas prone to rock slide and avalanche.

In addition to expanding the reach of the 1041 wildfire regulations to include older subdivisions, the amendment approved Wednesday allows development in severe wildfire zones on lots where no other alternative is available. It also allows property owners in older, previously exempt subdivisions to build in severe wildfire zones, regardless of whether an alternative site is available, if they put together a mitigation plan that satisfies an independent wildfire expert.

When the Child application first came before the commissioners on Aug. 14, it was tabled to make time for amending the wildfire regulations, and thus allow Jeanie Child to build on Nose Bleed Hill. Without the amendment, the commissioners would not be able to approve the Child application, because the lot on Nose Bleed Hill would be out of compliance with the code.

It was tabled again on Aug. 28 after the considerations stumbled over a number of issues raised by development consultants and land-use attorneys. After the discussion was over, commissioners Clapper and Shellie Roy said they were not willing to amend the wildfire regulations until they had seen a clean copy of the proposed amendments that included suggestions from the land-use consultants.

The delays caused some concern among members of the Child family and their supporters, because Bob Child is currently undergoing radiation treatment in a battle with cancer.

The debate on amending the wildfire regulations nearly fell apart again Wednesday, when Commissioner Hatfield objected to making any changes to the 1041 hazard regulations until they had all been reviewed.

For a while, it appeared that commissioners Roy and Clapper also agreed that a more comprehensive review was necessary. Then Clapper asked the question, “That would hold this wildfire thing up again, wouldn’t it?”

When county attorney John Ely answered yes, she said, “I’m not going there.”

Eventually, Roy came around to support the amended wildfire regulations, as well. Hatfield meanwhile continued to object to the amendment because it reversed the longstanding policy of exempting older subdivisions.

Hatfield wondered if the county was doing right by property owners who had purchased lots in older subdivisions with the expectation of being exempt from 1041 regulations.

That prompted Commissioner Mick Ireland to launch a relatively long statement about the need to apply regulations meant to protect lives and property evenly throughout the county.

“Why are the lives of people in older board-approved subdivisions any less valuable than the lives of people in newer subdivisions?” he asked Hatfield. “Why do we have to continue misinterpreting the code just because we’ve been doing it for 20 years?”

Hatfield wouldn’t budge, however, and the amendment passed 4-1, shortly before the Child application passed unanimously on first reading.

The Child development is expected to be approved on a second and final reading on Sept. 25.

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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