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Dark days ahead for open space?

Naomi Havlen

A Pitkin County family is one step closer to expanding its property rights after the state Senate approved a bill Tuesday.

State Bill 215 exempts property that was zoned as agricultural before 1974 from regulations imposed by counties. The vote was split down party lines, with 18 Republicans voting in favor and 16 Democrats opposing. One Democrat recused herself because of a conflict of interest.

The bill was fought all the way to the Senate floor by the Pitkin County commissioners.

“The implication of 215 is the end of growth management in Pitkin County, and the end of our ability to regulate against hazards on 35-acre parcels,” Commissioner Mick Ireland said yesterday. “It’s very much an uphill fight at this point.”

The bill must be approved by the state House of Representatives on its way to the governor, but Ireland said the bill is nearly a done deal. A formal approval in the Senate is expected today.

Pitkin County’s state representative, Republican Greg Rippy, is a sponsor of the measure. Ireland said he and other commissioners will speak at Rippy’s House Committee within the next few days.

The property at stake belongs to the Droste family; it stretches from the Brush Creek Valley to Owl Creek Ranch. The Drostes want to develop 325 acres that include an elk migration corridor into several 35-acre parcels.

The county in the past, citing the elk migration corridor, turned down Peter Droste’s development applications. A bill that passed in 1974 in Colorado granted counties the right to regulate activities on areas that are considered historic, archaeological or include wildlife habitats. Counties could also regulate development on certain geological sites, such as steep slopes and avalanche areas.

The county commissioners wanted Droste to cluster his development together to protect the elk habitat. The commissioners rejected Droste’s proposal to scatter single-family homes on 35-acre parcels, so Droste sued. A district court judge and the Colorado Court of Appeals sided with the county.

Senate Bill 215 nullifies the Colorado bill from 1974, which means the Drostes can build residences on their 35-acre parcels. It also means that anyone with a 35-acre parcel can build in geologically hazardous areas that are zoned as agricultural.

Ireland said Tuesday’s vote made for a “very sad day,” considering that House Bill 1203 also passed (see related article).

“If you don’t regulate this, people will build in hazardous places, take the money and run,” he said. “How many trailer parks do we have here that are in flood plains? How many times does an avalanche hit a house before you think regulations are a good idea?

“People don’t self-regulate. They don’t protect the interests of the next buyer. That’s just the way it is.”

There was one small change to Senate Bill 215 on Tuesday; Sen. Dan Grossman introduced an amendment that would force property owners to obtain a permit to build an access road on the property.

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com


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