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County feels initiative rush

Allyn Harvey

As one of the most important deadlines in state history for landowners approached last week, cities and counties around Colorado were flooded with development applications.

Even Pitkin County, with some of the most stringent land use rules in the nation, was not immune to the land rush. Planning consultants and land use attorneys up and down the Roaring Fork Valley have scrambled over the last several weeks to beat the Sept. 13 deadline set by the Responsible Growth Initiative.

The initiative would have enormous impacts on development in every county with a population above 10,000 and every town with a population of more than 1,000, because it requires local governments to draw a map delineating specific areas where growth is allowed.

According to an administrative assistant with Pitkin County, 34 land use proposals filed in the last few weeks can be directly attributed to the citizens’ initiative, otherwise known as Amendment 24, that will be voted on this fall.

If passed, the initiative would limit the amount of area that can be designated for growth by requiring that all new development be served by a central water and sewer system; if a town or county can’t extend its water and sewer systems to a location within 10 years, it can’t be included in the growth area.

Once a city works out its growth areas, it is required to explain the likely effects of that growth on everything from the environment to water rates and then get the map approved by its voters.

“If the initiative passes, we will effectively have a moratorium on development throughout the state while communities complete the planning work that’s required,” said local planning consultant Stan Clauson.

The only places, besides sparsely populated counties and towns, where development will be allowed to occur while the planning work is completed is in “committed areas.”

The initiative defines committed areas in three ways. But the key definition for most developers and landowners is the one that says a committed area is any piece of property where a “valid development application … has been submitted to the appropriate local government, as of the date on which the general election ballot of 2000 was certified by the secretary of state.”

So developers and landowners throughout the state have been rushing to get applications for major subdivisions, minor subdivisions and even one-home projects in by Sept. 13, the deadline for county clerks to submit their local ballots to the secretary of state’s office.

According to a story in Friday’s Denver Post, El Paso County received over 200 development applications in the last three weeks that, if all are approved, would allow for 60,000 new homes. Douglas County planners accepted 250 development applications since Aug. 8, up from 75 during the same period last year. In the city of Aurora, developers filed 157 applications in August and 73 in September before the deadline passed; prior to the rush, Aurora officials told the Denver Post, the average was 26 a month.

Garfield County received 60 applications, including several for large subdivisions.

“It’s unprecedented to have so many applications come in in such a short time,” said Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s community development deputy director, of the 34 filed in his office. “The types of applications we got weren’t out of the ordinary; it’s just that they all came at once to beat the deadline.”

Pitkin County’s growth management rules prevent the kind of subdivisions, if approved, likely to crop up in El Paso County if the initiative passes, but that doesn’t mean local landowners aren’t affected.

Backcountry property owners, for instance, will likely never find their land included in the county’s growth map. So a few of the applications filed recently were for 1,000-square-foot cabins in areas zoned as rural and remote.

One application to come in under the wire was for development of the Droste property on the plateau above Brush Creek. The family recently accepted $7.5 million from the town of Snowmass Village and the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program in exchange for placing a conservation easement on the lower portions of the property, between Brush Creek Road and the hilltop to the east. They want to put luxury homes on the remainder of their property, which extends from the top of the hillside to the valley around Owl Creek.

Local planners report they’ve been moderately busy in the weeks leading up to Sept. 13. Consultant Mitch Haas said he hurried up on two applications. Sunny Vann also sped up submission on a few applications but said he didn’t have a rush because he declines work outside Pitkin County.

Glen Horn and Alice Davis at Davis Horn Inc. were apparently a little busier. They shut down their offices last Friday and don’t plan to work again until tomorrow, because, some of their colleagues report, they worked through the last several weekends to beat the deadline.

Clauson stayed busy too, although most of his work was for developments outside Pitkin County. “Actually, I didn’t rush to get any applications in in Pitkin County, but I did elsewhere,” he said.


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