County moves to crack down

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County may soon adopt an emergency ordinance that would allow it to fine homeowners up to $1,000 if they are not in compliance with fire safety restrictions that apply to their property.

The county commissioners considered fines and other possible actions Tuesday that would reduce the chances of a fire like the one that burned through several neighborhoods in West Glenwood earlier this month.

The commissioners also decided not to allow shake shingles on homes, even if they are chemically treated to be fire resistant. And they directed staff to begin identifying properties that have mitigation requirements.

If adopted, the fines would apply to homes that are out of compliance with fire safety requirements that were part of their development approvals.

Darryl Grob, Aspen’s fire chief, said homeowner compliance with fire mitigation rules is spotty at best. Neither the fire department nor the county planning department has the manpower to send people out to inspect homes with mitigation requirements, homes which are often located in remote locations.

Commissioner Mick Ireland suggested the county begin an inspection program and begin fining those who own homes that are required to clear brush and take other defensive actions. There is no provision in the county code that allows fines to be levied against people who violate conditions of approval for residential development. An emergency ordinance would be necessary to create such a section in the code.

Other commissioners said they would rather send out letters notifying homeowners of the threat and what needs to be done to reduce it. But Ireland appeared to sway their opinions when he pointed out that many homes in Pitkin County are owned by partnerships, family trusts and corporations, making it unlikely that the people who own the house would actually see the letter.

“I don’t want to depend on a public information campaign for people to make the connection about fires and their homes,” Ireland said, adding that the threat of a $1,000 fine would get people’s attention pretty quickly.

The decision not to allow shake shingles is a reversal for the county. Although the building code currently prohibits their use in wildfire hazard areas, the commissioners were considering allowing shake shingles if it could be proven that the chemical treatment designed to reduce their flammability actually worked.

Grob pointed out that it would be difficult to establish a protocol that satisfied the U.S. Forest Service, the county and the manufacturers of the shingles. He also said it would cost thousands of dollars and take several years to adequately gauge the effectiveness of chemically treated shake shingles.

The decision on the shingles may force yet another confrontation between the county and multimillionaire Stewart Resnick over the Stillwater affordable housing project.

A covenant on the county’s Stillwater lot, located on Aspen’s east side below Mountain Valley, requires the roofing and siding be made of “natural” substances. For the roofing, that means wood shake shingles or slate are the only choices.

Exceptions to the rule must be approved by Resnick, who owns a mansion near the Stillwater lot and property immediately adjacent to the affordable housing project. On multiple occasions over the past several months, Resnick has vetoed Housing Authority requests to veer from the natural material requirements in order to save money.

The county commissioners learned yesterday, however, that other counties including Boulder County and Los Angeles County, have won lawsuits against homeowners associations in their jurisdictions to overturn covenants requiring the use of flammable materials.

The county’s decision to address building standards and compliance with fire safety measures comes as wildfires are consuming millions of acres and threatening thousands of homes throughout the central Rockies and the Southwest.

The county staff is expected to come back next Tuesday with a plan for dealing with the fire threat.

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