County puts off Starwood ruling
Pitkin County yesterday put off deciding whether or not to exempt Starwood from the county’s moratorium on construction of large houses.
After a long presentation by attorney Paul Taddune and a number of other Starwood representatives, county commissioners said they needed more time to think before making a decision. Much of the presentation was aimed at demonstrating how Starwood contributes to county coffers without demanding many of the usual county services.
But Starwood representatives were not prepared to answer key questions pertaining to growth, such as whether or not Starwood residents’ domestic employees are drawn from the local area.
Taddune told the commissioners that his clients, the Starwood homeowners, believe it’s wrong and illegal for the county to withhold development rights from property owners and that they will suffer financial damages as a result.
He also said he believes the county violated open-meeting laws in approving the moratorium without providing public notice of the meeting. Referring to the county’s approval of the moratorium as an emergency resolution, he said, there is no emergency. And if there is, Taddune added, Starwood is not responsible for it.
Taddune said the Starwood Homeowners Association hired a land-use planner from a large firm to do some analysis on the situation. The planner concluded that the academic study which triggered the moratorium fails to acknowledge that household income, rather than house size, determines the demand for labor.
“We have to own up to the fact that the analysis the moratorium is based on is flawed,” Taddune said. He claimed that the need for housing created by jobs at Starwood is much smaller than what’s indicated in the study, done by county planner Gabe Preston.
Commissioner Dorothea Farris said charges that the moratorium was conceived in secrecy are starting to wear on her.
“We need to get beyond debating the method and get on to dealing with those issues of growth,” she said. “We’re trying to get at a problem that everybody recognizes we have.”
Chairwoman Shellie Roy Harper questioned the wisdom of exempting Starwood from the moratorium. “Every subdivision will look to us to be treated the same,” she said.
Harper noted that growth and development are being fought on the neighborhood level in the county, with neighbors coming before the board to protest nearly every application.
The beginning of the meeting between Starwood and the commissioners was marred by a contentious interchange between two commissioners and Taddune. Before the discussion of the moratorium got under way, Commissioner Leslie Lamont questioned the appropriateness of Taddune, who also represents the Roaring Fork Transit Agency, arguing Starwood’s case before the board.
RFTA receives funding from Pitkin County, and Lamont is on RFTA’s board of directors. Taddune said he doesn’t think there’s a conflict of interest, but said he’s willing to withdraw if a conflict is proven.
Commissioner Mick Ireland suggested he himself might be prejudiced in ruling on the Starwood issue, as Taddune assisted Millard Zimet, attorney for a small group hoping to recall Ireland, in obtaining some of Ireland’s e-mail messages.
“I’ve known you for 20 years, and you didn’t have the courtesy to ask before you turned those messages over,” Ireland snapped. Zimet used the e-mail, from Ireland’s personal computer, in an attack ad targeting Ireland.
Taddune apologized to Ireland, saying he and his Starwood clients want to collaborate with the county. But land-use attorney Leonard Oates, from the back of the room, complained angrily that the commissioners were treating Taddune poorly.
“Talk about despicable conduct,” Oates said. “I think this is despicable conduct.”
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