Commission OKs building moratorium

Charles Agar

Pitkin County commissioners voted, 2-1, Wednesday for an emergency 90-day building moratorium on Smuggler Mountain, Aspen Mountain and areas near Castle Creek.The moratorium, which took effect immediately, apparently came in response to errors in the 2005 rezoning process of the three rural areas near Aspen. In effect, a building applicant could challenge the 2005 zoning and build a home, following 1994 rules that allow the construction of buildings in excess of 15,000 square feet. The 2005 code limits buildings to 15,000 square feet. The moratorium will not affect anyone hoping to build in accordance with 2005 zoning rules and will not stop anyone with a valid permit from building, county officials said.The dissenting vote, Pitkin County commissioners chairman Michael Owsley said the procedural errors in the 2005 rezoning process had to do with improper notification of the public process from September 2004 to March 2005. Neither the commissioners nor assistant county attorney Chris Seldin would elaborate.Owsley was outspoken against the move, saying the moratorium would undercut public trust.”I can’t support a late-afternoon emergency ordinance for a moratorium without public input,” Owsley said.Owsley said county staff could correct the error without enacting a moratorium, an act he likened to “binding and gagging” and unjustly imposing on the people of Pitkin County.”This is not an open and trusting move by the county,” Owsley said.Seldin said there were no specific development applications that inspired the moratorium on Smuggler Mountain, Aspen Mountain or along Castle Creek, but the temporary ordinance is a way to safeguard the areas.”I believe this is an unequivocally good reason to use our authority as a county,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said, adding that the 90 days would represent a chance to make sure efforts to preserve rural lands during the 2005 rezoning would not be undermined.”We don’t have any applications on the table,” Hatfield said. “This is just to make sure what we are doing is right.””I also will support the enacting of this very limited 90-day moratorium,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards, adding that the real issue is maintaining the letter of the 2005 zoning and protecting rural lands.”A moratorium is not an action to be taken lightly by any board,” Richards said. “My concern is the results on the ground.”When Seldin asked Owsley on Wednesday to sign the moratorium into being, he proffered the job to Hatfield.”I’m not going to sign the moratorium,” Owsley said, adding that it is within his purview to pass the job of signing documents to another commissioner.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is