County commissioners, planners wrestling with land-use code | AspenTimes.com

County commissioners, planners wrestling with land-use code

Naomi Havlen

The Pitkin County commissioners and the planning and zoning board members continue to wrangle with big, unresolved issues – including a change to acceptable house sizes in the immediate Aspen area – as they work to rewrite the county land-use code. The county has been overhauling the code for the better part of the last year, and drafts of the proposed changes should be available to the public by early October.Among the issues under consideration is the maximum square footage for a home in the growth boundary.Right now, anyone building a home within the urban growth boundary that surrounds Aspen out to the Airport Business Center has a maximum of 15,000 square feet to work with. That would be reduced to 5,750 square feet under the proposed changes. However, opportunities to build larger homes would remain, either by going through the county’s growth management quota system or purchasing transferable development rights.Planner Glenn Horn, who serves on the technical advisory committee for the code changes, said the change is a logical one, serving the public interest by preserving rural lands through the transferable development rights process.The growth management quota system is the county’s way of limiting how much new square footage is added to the housing stock in the county each year. Developers put their projects up for review against other proposals; the projects that most closely meet the criteria used in the judging process are awarded building rights. With transferable development rights, developers purchase development rights from rural and remote properties that the county would like to preserve as open space. The remote parcel is sterilized from future development, and the developer gets to add floor space to his or her proposal.Along with house size controls, these policies are tools the county uses to achieve its goals of protecting the county’s rural character, limiting the amount and visibility of growth and moving development toward urban areas.The county is also considering adding “conservation development options” to the code as a tool, which consultants say would encourage landowners to plan the future of large, 200-acre pieces of property.With conservation development, owners would be able to sell all of their TDRs to preserve their land, or receive exemption from the quota system to build one home of 15,000 square feet (or one home of 12,500 square feet, and one of 2,500 square feet). There are other options with this proposed program, including selling one TDR and building one 12,500-square-foot home on the property, or selling more TDRs and building proportionately smaller homes.No concerns were raised Wednesday about adding conservation development options to the land-use code at the joint meeting of the county commissioners and the planning and zoning commissioners.Horn said another key code revision under discussion would limit the use of TDRs for the creation of new development rights (the first 5,750 square feet of a home). If adopted, the practice would be allowed only on property within the urban growth boundary. However, TDRs could still be used to expand house sizes on rural projects where development rights already exist.”The idea isn’t to encourage, but to be more accommodating to development in the urban growth boundary than in rural areas,” Horn said.Clarion Associates, planning consultants for the public sector, and Aspen planner Alan Richman are doing consulting work for the county on the proposed changes. Horn, who has watched the county go through code revisions in the past, said he thinks the county is “doing a lot of things correctly this time.””There’s a citizen committee, and they’re going about this as a classic planning process,” he said. “It’s entirely open and public.”Cindy Houben, director of the county’s community development department, said the next step is to take the changes back to the “editing table,” where consultants will try to work some of the proposed changes into a draft form. On Aug. 31 the consultants will deliver the revised portions of the land-use code to the county staff, which will review the code changes and schedule any additional work sessions.Drafts should be ready to be distributed to the public by early October, and the first rounds of public hearings on the changes may be set by mid-November. The public hearings may be held in two to three hours worth of discussion on each portion of the land-use code, she said.The county’s staff would like to come back to the commissioners with revisions in early December and possibly adopt the changes sometime that month. Naomi Havlen’s e-mail is nhavlen@aspentimes.com