County downzones W/J, supports new zoning for housing |

County downzones W/J, supports new zoning for housing

Allyn Harvey

The latest proposal to downzone one of the last large tracts of property in Pitkin County that is zoned for affordable housing won initial approval from the Board of County Commissioners.

Commissioners took their first look last night at a plan that would cut the amount of housing allowed at W/J Ranch and on a 35-acre county-owned lot at Wildcat Ranch. The proposal would create a new zoning tool known as an affordable housing overlay.

The board voted unanimously to rezone the county-owned land, and 3-1 to downzone W/J and adopt the new zoning overlay. All of the actions will require subsequent approvals on second reading.

Commissioner Shellie Harper dissented on W/J and the overlay. “When I look at this, I’m really puzzled why anybody would do it – it’s a lot of work,” she said of the overlay district.

Harper said she didn’t see why anyone would ever build affordable housing under the overlay district. It lacks any incentive, she said. The zoning allows 45 affordable units per 100 acres, but no free-market housing.

To qualify for the overlay zone, a lot must be at least 100 acres in size and within a half-mile of Highway 82. It must also be situated within a quarter-mile of a transit stop.

Only two lots meet all the size and location requirements – W/J is one – but smaller parcels can be combined to qualify. Property immediately adjacent to Highway 82, such as the city-owned property at Cozy Point, could be developed with as many as seven affordable housing units per acre.

Developers who take advantage of the overlay zone would be exempt from the county’s restrictive growth management quota system.

“The concept of the overlay zone district is it provides an alternative for development,” said Assistant Planning Director Lance Clarke.

Commissioners Leslie Lamont and Patti Clapper agreed with Harper that more incentives are needed in the overlay zone.

“I also feel that we have a responsibility to provide affordable housing,” Clapper said.

She questioned the notion that zoning changes that reduce the potential for affordable housing in the outlying areas of the county will motivate the city of Aspen to build more. “Is that how we’re going to get affordable housing closer to Aspen?” Clapper asked. “I don’t think it’s a guarantee.”

Commissioner Mick Ireland urged the board to vote for the new zoning. Affordable housing belongs in Aspen, he said, noting it is troublesome and expensive to extend emergency services and utilities to large tracts of housing in remote areas.

The board voted 3-1 to direct staff to alter the proposal to allow free-market housing and provide more incentives for landowners to use the zoning. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for March 24.

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