County preps for fight over land use | AspenTimes.com
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County preps for fight over land use

Janet Urquhart

At least three Pitkin County commissioners plan to head to Denver today to lobby for defeat of legislation they believe will gut the county’s ability to control growth.

Commissioners will be bending the ear of any state senator who will listen to their concerns about Senate Bill 215, which was approved by a committee last week.

The road trip is but one prong of a strategy to fight the bill.

Colorado Counties Inc., a statewide lobbying organization, is also rallying opposition from its membership. The list of counties opposing the measure was growing yesterday, according to Debbie Quinn, assistant county manager.

“If senators start getting e-mails from every county saying this is a big mistake, that’s better than, ‘Oh, I got another e-mail from Pitkin County,'” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris during a special meeting of commissioners Tuesday.

While Pitkin County adamantly opposes the legislation, the bill has the backing of the county’s representatives in the Legislature, Sen. Lewis Entz and Rep. Gregg Rippy. Both lawmakers are among the bill’s sponsors.

“It’s a little disturbing if [Sen.] Entz is in support of something that none of the counties he represents support,” Farris said.

Pitkin County has labeled the bill special-interest legislation, crafted specifically to relieve one local landowner from having to comply with county regulations in the development of his property.

Peter Droste, who has unsuccessfully sued the county a half-dozen times in his development quest, is trying to prevail at the Statehouse after losing a series of court battles, county officials contend.

The Droste family owns a swath of land outside Snowmass Village, stretching from the Brush Creek Valley to Owl Creek Ranch.

“It [the bill] is aimed at relief for one particular property owner,” said John Ely, county attorney. “It’s aimed at us.”

Commissioners, however, will be focusing on the statewide impacts of the legislation – including its potential to harm property values and undermine local control – when they talk to lawmakers.

They’ll also be armed with a summary of their efforts to work with Droste to develop his property.

Lawmakers don’t understand the dispute or the county’s efforts to negotiate an acceptable development scheme with Droste, said Commissioner Mick Ireland.

“They think we won’t let him do anything with his land.”

Rather, Ireland explained, the county wants Droste to cluster nine to 11 home sites on his property in order to protect elk habitat and migration routes.

Local governments have paid close to $8 million to place conservation easements on about 600 acres of the Droste property, leaving about 325 acres open to development.

An amendment that would soften the controversial legislation, but still allow Droste to escape Pitkin County’s dictates to protect wildlife habitat, has emerged this week in Denver.

Entz is reportedly interested in considering the amendment before the bill goes to the Senate floor, but commissioners agreed the additional language doesn’t alleviate their concerns.

“I believe this bill should be killed,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper.

Droste has declined to discuss the legislation with The Aspen Times.

Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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