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Commissioner candidates discuss development

Editor’s note: Following are responses from candidates for the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, in their own words, to questions posed by The Aspen Times.

The W/J Ranch development has come forward four times. The first proposal was for approximately 765 units. Subsequent proposals were modified to lesser numbers, yet maintained very high-density concentration. They would have compromised the rural nature, scenic qualities and wildlife habitat around the W/J-McClain Flats area. The current proposal features low-density housing, lower impacts on wildlife habitat and scenic qualities, preserves riparian lands and the rural qualities of the area.

As I state in my answer to the following question, the urban growth boundary creates a desirable container for growth. High-density rural developments clog roads and burden the county budget with the need for increased services. These developments increase the number of car trips for access to family-related activities such as doctors, school, sports and entertainment. As the chairman of the Woody Creek Caucus Planning Commission, I worked to persuade the commissioners that the first three proposals were not in the best interests of rural Pitkin County.

First, I need to clarify a misperception that commissioners with backbone say “no” and I say “yes.” The commissioners are constrained by law. If an application to develop is in conformance with our code ” to deny means expensive litigation and a judge, not the commissioners, defining the development. If elected, my opponent will learn very quickly that only a minority of commissioners can be allowed the satisfaction of the philosophical “no.” The responsible majority has to grind through, creating conditions governing the development until they can live with “yes.”

I voted no to Musik’s W/J 500 units, as it violated code and was based on outlandish premises. One of the hardest votes I have ever made was to vote “no” on Lowe’s follow-up try at W/J, a proposal with 25-30 affordable homes. I wanted to approve the chance for 25 families to have the opportunity to live in a rural place, but agreed with the Woody Creek Caucus that we had an obligation to them to honor a prior board’s restriction against any more affordable housing there. I not only voted “no” to Droste’s proposal of 24 homes on acreage zoned for eight homes, but fought hard to defeat his bill to force Pitkin County to give him anything he wanted. Another “no” was to a house in the flood way of the Crystal River, as I found it violated our code and 1041 hazards.

Once again, if a project meets all the requirements of the land-use code there would be no grounds to vote against it. I imagine if a project was passed by the BOCC it met the requirements. In order for me to say I would unequivocally reject a project, I would have to have all the details. Since I do not sit on the BOCC, nor do I work for the Community Development Department I don’t have 100 percent of the facts.

However, there are projects I would like to have seen constructed differently. For example, I feel the quality and design of the Truscott project is subpar. I’ve never once heard anyone say they thought it was attractive. Residents at the development have told me of poor quality of materials and workmanship. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Would I live there?” before we build any housing. Just because a project is affordable doesn’t mean it has to be poor quality.

I will give three examples of why I voted “no.”

I voted “no” on the Droste application of 2002 because it did not comply with our land-use code, including the fact that the residences were located in critical wildlife habitat, the access road would have impacted 30 percent slopes, the application was inconsistent with the AFR-10 Zone District (did not preserve wildlife habitat and scenic quality), three of the lots were located in a severe wildfire hazard area and the applicant had not demonstrated adequate water quality and quantity.

The second example occurred in 2002 with the Moore request for a caretaker unit in a subdivision in the Crystal River Valley. My no vote was due to the fact that the existing caretaker dwelling unit (CDU) was a bandit unit with an unpermitted, inadequate septic system. CDUs were also prohibited by the subdivision’s covenants. I considered this a public health issue.

Another example of a public health, safety and welfare issue would be the appeal of a driveway permit issued by the county for the Little Cloud subdivision, a property contiguous to the city of Aspen. I voted no to grant the appeal, and thus deny the driveway permit, because of avalanche and rockfall hazard.

The first Lowe W/J application (2003) is my third example. I did not support this development because it was inconsistent with the local caucus master plan, the downvalley master plan and the citizens housing plan. The proposal was also inconsistent with a previous agreement to preserve open meadows for wildlife habitat.

Thus, for three very different reasons I did not support the above applications.

Each application has to be reviewed on its own merit. Without the case files, I can’t answer this question.

The five members of the BOCC take very seriously the decisions we make regarding development. The conditions and impacts of any development are thoroughly reviewed and modified during discussions.

The key is not whether we voted for or against the proposal, but, rather, if we, as a board, were able to fashion, during the process, a final proposal that integrated and balanced the needs and rights of both the applicant and the county’s residents in a manner that protected the environment, the community and the master plan concepts identified in that area and the countywide plans.

No. The urban growth boundary was established to identify the area that included infrastructure sufficient to serve increased development. While most of those lands lie within the city’s current boundaries, some are in the county. It is there (where infrastructure exists) that increased development (higher density, higher intensity) should occur, and then only if certain conditions are met. Conditions include need, availability of trail and transit, community character, cost, environmental impacts.

If the project met zoning and land-use code requirements, I would vote to approve. I agree with Jack Hatfield that the land-use code needs to be amended to provide better clarity and certainty for property owners or developers. The vote to approve or not should be based on adherence to the code rather than other criteria.

Purchasing property is a business decision which requires careful research and sound analysis. Potential buyers need some assurance that the zoning in force when they purchase not be unilaterally and retroactively changed by the county. I believe that the land-use code and zoning in place at the time of purchase should remain unless and until the owner requests a change.

I do not support large-scale developments outside the urban growth boundaries. In the 2000 election for commissioner, this policy was integral to my platform. I have been instrumental, along with two other commissioners, in creating this as a county policy to be adopted as part of our code rewrite. This view is supported by the results of a recent county survey of residents, second-home owners and business owners. Scenic and visual qualities, recreational opportunities, water quantity/quality and parks and trails are “values” supported by 80 percent of the respondents.

In addition, in complying with a requirement by the state Legislature to write a county master plan, we found that none of the caucus/planning areas throughout the county supported large-scale developments in rural areas. The quality of our rural character is the “why” we live, work and visit Pitkin County. I will work to maintain that character.

It doesn’t really matter what my personal beliefs are. It is the wants and concerns of the citizens of this community that matter. That is why we have the growth management section of the land-use code. Residential developments in the rural area must fall within the guidelines of Article 9 Section 9-120 with consideration given for the incentives and exemptions laid out in Article 9 Section 9-110. If a project meets all the requirements laid out in Article 9 of the land-use code, I would have to approve it. However, if it did not meet the requirements I would have no problem with rejecting the project.

No. I strongly support the idea of rural land between the towns. Pitkin County adopted zoning about 30 years ago that created a de facto urban growth boundary (UGB). It is only recently that the term UGB was coined and adopted (by unanimous vote) into our code to support the existing zoning.

Twenty-eight years ago I fell in love with the rural character and small-town atmosphere of this valley. I will always vote and work to preserve it. I also love the character of the people and the vibrancy of this place. My decisions, comments and efforts have always been focused on finding balance between retaining vibrancy and community and preserving the natural environment.

The purpose of the urban growth boundary is to confine high-density development within urban areas to preserve rural lands. It consolidates all the services and resources of a community within easy reach of the residents. Residents can use bikes, mass transit and easy walking to access all the advantages of living in an urban area, encouraging connectedness to neighbors, community-building and a thriving, vital atmosphere. I do not support commercial or high-density development outside the urban growth boundary.


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