Commissioners move toward allowing more development | AspenTimes.com

Commissioners move toward allowing more development

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Pitkin County commissioners took several steps last week toward a proposal that would allow significantly more development in rural areas than originally envisioned by staff members at the community development department.

The commissioners, who have been working on a major rewrite of the county land-use code, are leaning toward a zoning scheme that would permit 5,750-square-foot houses throughout rural Pitkin County, as opposed to the 2,000-square-foot limit proposed by staff.

The commissioners may also allow every lot owner with at least 35 acres in rural areas to build an additional residence of up 2,000 square feet for family members, an employee or for rental through the affordable housing program. That includes the immediate areas surrounding Aspen, Basalt and Snowmass Village.

On 35-acre lots, an agricultural outbuilding, such as a farm or a shed, of 2,500 square feet would also be allowed. Larger lots would be allowed even more square footage for agricultural purposes. Additionally, commercial buildings would be allowed on lots of 100 acres or more.

Clustering, a mandatory requirement for development of large parcels in the staff proposal that came out last December, would still be encouraged by the commissioners’ latest proposal, but it would not be required.

But there appears to be a hook that will be added in the future. The truly rural areas that are currently used for ranching will have to go through an onerous review process under the growth management quota system. It’s a part of the review process that curtails the pace of development by setting a maximum number of square feet that can be built each year and then forcing developers to compete for the right to build.

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For several weeks now the commissioners have promised to use the growth management section of the code as a way to force ranchers – and developers – to look at development alternatives to the 35-acre lot subdivision that is guaranteed by state law.

One proposal on the table would limit development under growth management competition in the so-called resource conservation zone to just 5,000 square feet a year. The practical effect would be to make development of some of the larger parcels in the county – up to 2,500 acres – move at a torturously slow pace, to the point of being unacceptable.

To help them along, the latest plan contains two alternatives for ranchers/developers that exempt them from growth management review. They can divide their land into 500-acre lots and build large homes – perhaps up to 15,000 square feet – or they can develop one home for every 100 acres they own. In the 100-acre option, the ranchers/developers would be allowed house sizes up to 5,750 square feet. Both options also allow for long-term development approvals, up to 20 years instead of the standard three.

Development in other areas that are generally considered rural but are not held in large, contiguous parcels would also be subject to growth management review, but its pace wouldn’t be so tightly restricted.

The steps taken last Tuesday, when the commissioners met to discuss ways of concluding the debate over rural development that’s been under way since late last year, represent a major shift in direction. But there are some things that are essentially unchanged, including the proposal to split the rural area into two zones: R-35 which allows modest development on 35-acre lots (and smaller ones that already exist), and R-35/RC which allows modest-sized homes in exchange for less development.

“In the R-35/RC, you can choose to go through growth management and develop 35-acre subdivisions, or you can say, `I don’t want to do that,’ and choose one of the options,” explained Commissioner Mick Ireland. “Those are options available in R-35/RC and not anywhere else.”

Many of the ideas discussed at last week’s meeting were contained in a proposal by the county planning and zoning commission. The commissioners were also drawing from oral and written comments made over the past several months.

Ireland, the least development-friendly county commissioner, supported, and even advocated, most of what was agreed on at Tuesday’s meeting.

Disagreements to the outline that Ireland crafted centered around details rather than policy, except with the house size question.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield made it clear that he thought the county was putting too much pressure on the growth management section of the code. He proposed limiting house sizes in rural areas to about 3,000 square feet, unless the land owner opts into one of the alternatives.

“My opinion is that 5,750 is too much square footage in resource conservation areas,” Hatfield said. “I’m concerned about relying on growth management as the only control.”

But the elimination of limits on size was clearly a relief for Commissioner Dorothea Farris. She’s been struggling with the idea all along and was an enthusiastic supporter of proposals Ireland made at Tuesday’s meeting. She also sees growth management as the linch pin to controlling development.

Farris reminded her fellow commissioners that the 5,750-square-foot limit that is in effect throughout the county was the result of a lot of hard work – and a contentious moratorium. “I think we need to stay there, because we arrived at that number in a very legitimate way,” she said.

The decisions made on Tuesday will be used to craft a new proposal for rural zoning that will then be presented to the county commissioners, the planning commissioners and the public at an upcoming meeting.

The debate on the land-use code picks up again Wednesday at 3 p.m.