Couple seeks permission to build cabin, preserve another on back of Aspen Mtn.
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Dan Bunta and Mary Manning are hardly proposing a monster home in Little Annie Basin on the back side of Aspen Mountain, but at 1,000 square feet, it might feel like one.
The couple currently resides in a 386-square-foot, one-room cabin on their 40-acre property. It apparently dates back to 1891, making it one of the few original cabins that remain from the Little Annie Mine, one of the most significant sites in the Castle Creek Valley back in Aspen’s mining heyday, according to Suzannah Reid, historic preservation officer for Pitkin County.
Bunta has called the tiny cabin home since 1989, and Manning, his wife, has resided there for the past six years. They depend on solar-generated electricity, a wood stove for heat, water from a neighbor’s spring, an outhouse and snowmobiles to get in and out on unplowed Little Annie Road for much of the year.
“I don’t think any of us will be able to drive it until the end of June this year,” Bunta said.
“Friends and family thought I was crazy to want to live up here,” Manning told Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday, as the couple outlined their proposal to construct a new residence. “A little extra space would be nice. Indoor plumbing would be really nice.
“A thousand square feet is three times bigger than what we have. That’s monster to me.”
Bunta and Manning are among an assortment of off-the-grid, Little Annie denizens who reside in quaint cabins in and around the Little Annie meadows. The area is zoned Rural and Remote, a zoning district established by the county in the mid-1990s. It limits development in backcountry areas, where urban services and utilities are unavailable, to 1,000-square-foot cabins. Several have been constructed in Little Annie Basin.
The couple has proposed designating their current home, dubbed the Annex Cabin, as historic under the county’s code, ensuring it will be preserved and maintained.
“I love this cabin,” Bunta told commissioners. “This cabin has been here a hundred years. I want it to stay.”
The new residence is proposed on the edge of the large Little Annie meadow, where it will be tucked largely out of sight. The property is part of the area the Aspen Skiing Co. uses for its powder tours on the back of the mountain, said Bunta, a powder tour guide for the Skico.
“The cabin is going to be very minimally visible whether you’re going up Little Annie Road or coming down,” said Suzanne Wolff, senior county planner.
“I don’t think Dan could have picked a better spot to put a home up there,” added Hawk Greenway, who built his own cabin on a neighboring Rural and Remote parcel.
The new cabin will blend in with the character of the area, Bunta said, with weathered wood siding and rusted, corrugated roofing. An existing road, two dirt tracks through the grass, will serve as the driveway to the cabin when it’s passable.
In exchange for the historic designation, the couple is asking the county to issue them one transferable development right, or TDR, which can be sold to a developer or property owner looking to boost square footage elsewhere.
Commissioners appeared amenable to granting the TDR, but balked at requests for 1,000 square feet of basement space beneath the new cabin and a 10-year vesting period – the amount of time the development approval will remain valid. The county code allows a three-year initial vesting period.
Bunta offered to accept a 500-square-foot basement plus some added crawl space, but commissioners were hesitant to set that precedent in the Rural and Remote zone district.
“Certainly the back side of Aspen Mountain is not the only place zoned Rural and Remote,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “This could get out of hand.”
Bunta, however, suggested he would consider public access across his property to help the county secure hoped-for trail connections in exchange for further consideration of his basement and vested rights requests.
Commissioners indicated they would consider the addition of a trail component and continued Wednesday’s hearing to June 8, giving Bunta and Manning time to further refine their proposal with the county’s planning staff.
As Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues its meetings and process to reintroduce grey wolves back to the Western Slope, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is beginning its process to introduce a 10(j) rule at the request of the state.
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