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County denies Droste’s plans

Brent Gardner-Smith

A hearing officer for Pitkin County Thursday denied two controversial land-use applications by Peter Droste, who wants to develop 300 acres of pristine land on the ridge between the Owl Creek and Brush Creek valleys.

County hearing officer Jim True gave a thumbs down to Droste’s applications to build an elaborate access road and driveway to a 35-acre homesite with spectacular views of the Aspen and Snowmass ski areas.

One application was for a two-mile long access road that would require three bridges and a tunnel to construct. The second application was for a homesite that would be reached by a nearly one-mile-long driveway with another tunnel and several more bridges.

The $4 million worth of bridges and tunnels are needed to avoid building on slopes in excess of 30 degrees, which is prohibited by the county’s land-use code.

True’s decision is likely to be appealed by Droste to the Pitkin County Commissioners as a taking of private property without compensation. He has 15 days to file an appeal. Droste has said that he intends to pursue the matter in the courts if he doesn’t get his way with the county commissioners.

Droste’s argument that his property is exempt from the county’s 1041 regulations could eventually set a statewide precedent and weaken counties’ ability to control development in wildlife habitat or on property threatened by avalanche, wildlife, floods or landslides.

In his straightforward decision, True cited the provision of the Pitkin County land-use code that states “development is prohibited within deer, elk and bighorn sheep winter concentration areas and severe winter range areas.”

Severe winter range means an area still provides suitable forage for elk and deer even in winters with an usually deep snowpack.

True noted that three wildlife experts have stated that the location for Droste’s proposed road, driveway and homesite is within severe winter range. One of those experts, True pointed out, is Droste’s own wildlife consultant, Michael J. Villa, a former Pitkin County wildlife biologist.

“The Droste Family Interest Parcel falls entirely within mapped migration corridor, winter range, severe winter range, and critical habitat on the WRIS maps,” Villa wrote in a report as part of the land-use applications.

Based on the wildlife provisions in the code, and the expert’s testimony, True denied the applications.

True declined to rule on whether or not Droste’s applications were exempt from the county’s 1041 provisions, saying that was beyond the scope of his authority as the county’s designated hearing officer in the matter.

True’s decision marks the latest in an ongoing and often contentious process between Droste, who lives in Massachusetts, and Pitkin County.

Droste contends that when he sold a conservation easement of 500 acres of land to the county in 1999 for $7.5 million, the contract gave him the right to build an access road, which would then allow him to develop his property.

Droste’s current plans are to create 20 homesites on the ridge, which he believes would together sell for at least $50 million.


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