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District 4 race a S’mass affair

Jeremy Heiman

As a private-sector planning consultant, John B. Young has championed numerous affordable housing proposals before government boards.

Now Young, who was also Snowmass Village town manager for nine years, is running for the District 4 seat on the Pitkin County Commission, to be vacated by Leslie Lamont, and one of his foremost goals is to create more affordable housing.

Young’s goals also include giving a boost to the county’s transferable development rights program, providing ways to protect ranchers’ rights while protecting their land from development and restoring civility and tolerance to the county’s land-use approval process.

“We’ve lost our sense of humor and our tolerance,” Young said. “I’d like to bring them back to the table.”

In 12 years as a planner, Young represented affordable housing backed by the Telluride Housing Authority, the Grand Junction Housing Authority, Aspen Valley Hospital and other governments and institutions.

Young also brought former W/J Ranch owner John Musick’s giant affordable housing proposal before Pitkin County’s Planning and Zoning Board and the county commissioners. He bailed out before the proposal was shot down, citing other work obligations.

On other projects, though, he’s seen the land-use process through and done it in a lot of different settings.

“I’ve dealt with 16 different Colorado governments,” he said. “I know what it is to wrestle with difficult issues and how to head up an effective government.”

Young and his wife, Linda Vieira, a nurse-midwife, live in Old Snowmass with their high school-aged children.

On the issues

While Young approves of the changes to the county’s growth management legislation put in place last summer, he said he feels that imposing the moratorium on land-use applications was unnecessary and wrong.

“In 25 years of living in Pitkin County,” he said, “I’ve never seen a more acrimonious issue.”

He’s happy with the 5,750-square-foot limit on house size that resulted from give-and-take between commissioners and the development community.

“That took a lot of courage,” he said. Young would like to see the use of transferable development rights (TDRs) increase, he said, to continue to move growth from areas where it’s not appropriate to areas where it’s “tolerable.”

The TDR is the key to managing growth, he said. Large houses should continue to be allowed in areas where they have already been allowed, such as Red Mountain and Eagle Pines. But in order to build a big house, owners and developers should be required to pay a premium, like a luxury tax on other high-priced items.

“My idea is not to throttle that industry, but to put it to work for us,” Young said.

Young says the county must be a player in the affordable housing game, because the profit-driven development industry won’t find building affordable housing any more attractive than it has in the past.

“Unfortunately, the government has to take the lead,” he said.

He said he supports pending public projects at Burlingame Ranch and Aspen Mass, and he hopes to be an active participant in making certain that housing built at Burlingame remains affordable. Affordable housing projects have become too expensive, he said, because they haven’t been planned to avoid waste.

The project, Young said, must be designed with rooms sized in two-foot intervals, to take advantage of the standard dimensions of lumber, drywall and other building materials. This aspect of planning reduces both labor and waste, he said, and architects on the project must understand it.

County-developed affordable housing should take advantage of an inexpensive source of financing, Private Activity Bonds, which are mortgage bonds borrowed at tax-exempt rates from the state, Young said. PAB financing can mean up to a 25-percent savings for public-sector development, he said.

Young has sympathy for service employees with respect to their housing problems. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police officers are essential to the community but can’t afford to live in it.

“I think we should look at some preferential treatment for them, or we won’t have them,” he said.

Young supports the rural transportation authority proposal before valley voters in November.

“I see it as the best mechanism for providing transportation for the future,” he said. “It makes little sense for each government to handle its own transportation needs.”

But he said he’s skeptical of train service in the foreseeable future, because he doesn’t believe federal funding will materialize, and he doesn’t believe the political will exists.

Young is reining in his campaign contributions and spending to comply with voter-approved limits in the county.

“I’m going to come pretty close to the maximum,” he said. “But I’m keeping to the home rule charter.” So far, he’s collected about $8,000 from about 60 donors.

“I have both liberals and conservatives contributing to me,” he continued. “I’m proud of that.”

He said he’s not sure the county needs to be so rigid about spending, because he’s not convinced that money has ever bought an election here. But something else bothers him about the Common Sense Alliance, a group funding campaigns against transit issues in the coming election.

“I’d be interested to see if it’s outside money,” Young said. “I think people in the valley should be able to contribute to anything they want, but I’d be a little concerned if it was outside money.”

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Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2000


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