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County keeps moratorium

Allyn Harvey

The Pitkin County commissioners voted 3-2 last night to continue with a six-month limited moratorium after making a number of concessions meant to ease the pain on local landowners and the development community.

Despite the defection of Commissioner Patti Clapper, and even though the vast majority of those attending the six-hour public hearing said they opposed it, the board stood behind the ban on development applications for large homes and major land-use proposals.

The final version supported by Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Mick Ireland and Leslie Lamont is considerably more generous to property owners and developers than the one adopted Jan. 10, which limited new development applications to homes of 3,500 square feet or less.

The moratorium now allows applications for homes up to 5,750 square feet – including garage, basement and accessory dwelling units – through most of the county, and up to 6,450 square feet in certain zones. It also permits remodeling and redevelopment on homes of all sizes as long as no new floor area is added. The commissioners originally identified redevelopment as one of the major sources of construction activity and set strict limits on it.

The commissioners also agreed to consider some applications under the somewhat obscure rules of “common law vesting,” especially on lots that are part of subdivisions that haven’t updated their development rights.

But that wasn’t good enough for most of the 60 or so people who stayed to the end of the meeting. Some of the biggest names in the local development community slumped into their chairs and cast their eyes downward as it became apparent that a month of lobbying and negotiating to lift the moratorium had failed.

Last night’s public hearing was the first meeting to generate testimony from people who support the moratorium, but for every individual who came out in favor of the moratorium at last night’s public hearing, eight or nine spoke out against it.

Testimony from the development community echoed much of what’s been said over the last four weeks. Warnings of personal economic peril by everyone from carpenters who commute an hour-and-a-half to work each day to some of the highest paid contractors in the area took up much of the hearing. So did criticism of the county study that identified large homes as a major job generator both during and after construction. And most took a minute to question the commissioners’ methods in adopting the moratorium.

Opponents even flew in an economist from Los Angeles to set the commissioners straight on the realities of moratorium economics.

Economist Paul Silvern warned that a work stoppage would ripple through the economy and affect sectors seemingly unrelated to construction. He said it would induce more development as landowners with vested development rights rushed to get their applications in before the new rules took effect. And in the end, the new regulations would likely inflate property values so much that building affordable housing would be even more prohibitive.

“When you ratchet down the level of development, it sends shock waves throughout the economy,” he said.

Although they did not spend money for outside expertise, a few locals did speak out in favor of the moratorium. One man, who described himself as a refugee from the unbridled development that made him come to “detest” his home state of Florida, told the commissioners they had every right to decide how and at what rate the community should develop.

Les Holst wrote a blank check for $500 and offered it to anyone who couldn’t pay their mortgage because of the moratorium. And he urged everyone in the room who could to donate $1,000 a month to a fund for construction workers who need help keeping their homes. After no one else volunteered, he said, “I’ve heard everyone talk about `I’ and `me’ tonight. Whatever happened to `we’ and `us’?”

“Did I or anybody who voted for these commissioners think, `Oh yes, they’ll take good care of the Western Slope economy?’ No. I voted for them because I thought they would stick up for Pitkin County. I’m not at all disappointed with what they’ve done,” said Karen Coordes, a longtime resident and former owner of the Innsbruck Inn.


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