County tightens land-use rules | AspenTimes.com

County tightens land-use rules

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County is making a major change to its land-use policies that will affect property owners in some of the valley’s oldest and most established neighborhoods.

Earlier this month, the county abandoned a longstanding policy of exempting older subdivisions from its rigorous – and expensive – environmental review process.

From now on, lot owners in subdivisions such as Mountain Valley, Gateway, Brush Creek Village and Starwood will be required to go through an additional layer of review, known as 1041, before developing their land or, in some cases, adding a room to an existing house.

One longtime planning consultant estimated the decision will add between $5,000 and $20,000 to the cost of obtaining a building permit in affected areas.

“It definitely hits older residents hardest, because it is generally older subdivisions where the people who live here are lucky enough to own something,” said Glenn Horn, a former county planner who now has his own consulting business. “If somebody wants to put an addition on their house, they could get caught up in this thing.”

It could also mean considerably more work for a community development department that is feeling the squeeze from the county budget crisis. Community development is short two employees due to the hiring freeze imposed last month to deal with the budget situation.

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The county commissioners interviewed for this story say the change is needed to make the process more fair and keep development from occurring in areas where it is not appropriate.

“I think it is inappropriate when one person makes the accommodations required by 1041 regulations and their neighbor with a parcel right on the riverbank doesn’t have to,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris.

The 1041 review requires lot owners to prove their future home will not be built in an environmentally sensitive or hazardous zone. The process gets its name from the state law adopted in the mid-1970s that authorized counties to weigh environmental factors – wildfire threats, slope, avalanche and rock slide, proximity to the floodplain, wetlands impacts and wildlife impacts – when reviewing land-use applications.

“We’ve got too many old subdivisions out there, mapped before anyone thought of 1041, and people are building homes in floodplains and wildfire areas,” said Commissioner Mick Ireland.

The commissioners took their first step toward adopting the new policy in mid-July after turning down an appeal by an Aspen-area couple who wanted to build a new home on Shadow Mountain in an area prone to rock slides.

The county hearing officer had denied Bill and Bonnie Eubanks’ development application specifically because of the rock slide hazard. The Eubanks appealed to the county commissioners, arguing that their lot is exempt because it’s located in a subdivision created before the county adopted 1041 regulations in October 1975.

Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s deputy director of community development, said that until mid-July, lots in subdivisions created prior to October 1975, such as Mountain Valley or Starwood, were exempt from the 1041 review process. The Eubanks hearing made it clear that the exemption was no longer in line with the philosophy of the commissioners.

Last Tuesday, the commissioners told Clarke they wanted to extend 1041 review to every development application where it is appropriate. A large number of lots will not be affected because they are located in areas that pose no environmental or geologic challenges.

Clarke does not think the change will have a huge impact on the community development department’s workload, even though it applies to hundreds of lots throughout the county.

“Since these older subdivisions are already built out, they are not the primary focus of our workload. Our workload centers on the areas of the county that aren’t built out,” he said.

Joanna Schaffner, the county’s code enforcement officer who is in charge of 1041 enforcement, said the policy change means a large number of developed lots will be affected if their owners want to redevelop or apply for a major addition.

But she noted that there is more than one layer of 1041 review, so not everyone will become bogged down in the review process. Clarke added that the draft code revisions may also include an expedited review process for lots that have minor 1041 issues.

But land-use consultants like Horn and Francis Krizmanich say the change will mean longer waits for a good number of land owners who want to develop or redevelop their property.

“The biggest concern to me would be you have certain lots on steep slopes, or lots that are heavily vegetated that are no longer eligible for development under the code,” Krizmanich said.

Horn said the effects of the change will likely extend into property sales, because 1041 compliance will join title review, radon testing and all the other check-offs that are a standard part of the presale inspection.

“I think it’s really unfortunate that the owners of property in these subdivisions have no idea what’s going on,” Horn said. “It doesn’t seem like there was adequate discussion about the implications on individual property owners.”

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]