Father of growth control says voters support downzoning
Opponents of Pitkin County’s plan to downzone rural and ranching lands have spoken loudest in the debate, but supporters claim voters are on their side.
Proponents of the downzoning have been few and far between at public hearings held by the county. That didn’t prevent former county commissioner and growth-control advocate Dwight Shellman from claiming Tuesday that the downzoning has popular support.
“I believe the bulk of the voters [want] you to continue on this path,” Shellman said.
But the handful of bona fide ranching families left in the valley contend it’s a path that will ruin them. Representatives of the Perrys, Turnbulls, Fales and Fenders all testified that land-use regulations designed to limit development on their lands would snuff their already-weakened ability to work their land.
Representatives of families that own large acreages said the county’s proposed regulations penalize the people who kept their land free of development for so long.
“Our family has been a great steward of this land for more than 100 years,” said 25-year-old Jason Steward, who owns land that his ancestors homesteaded in the Crystal Valley.
Joining the ranchers and large landowners was a well-represented contingent of Aspen’s real-estate sales and development community. Builders Lee Pardee and Marty Schlumberger spoke against the downzoning, as did land-use planners Glenn Horn and Mitch Haas. The proposed regulations were also criticized by land-use attorneys Herb Klein, Art Daily and Gideon Kaufman.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 packed the commissioners’ hearing. The vast majority of them spoke in protest against the proposed regulations, or cheered for those who did.
Shellman and his wife, Barbara Ornitz, were the only speakers in favor of the tougher regulations. As if his presence and his background as a father of local growth weren’t enough to rile the crowd, Shellman infuriated them by telling the commissioners they were facing the same pressure he and his colleagues faced when they enacted growth-management policies.
“There’s always a desire to change these meeting into a sort of lynch mob,” Shellman said. That was greeted by hisses and sighs of disbelieve from the audience.
Shellman didn’t back down. He told the commissioners that their actions would diminish the fortunes of the landowners but not come close to wiping them out. The question, he said, is, will this generation receive $20 million to $30 million for their property rather than $60 million to $65 million?
If the commissioners “cave in” and fail to adopt the downzoning, it would break up the last remaining acreages, Shellman claimed. He credited the county administration and commissioners with trying to solve locally a dilemma that plagues the entire United States – preserving wildlife habitat and keeping agriculture sustainable in the face of rampant development.
Shellman implored the commissioners not to think of the issue in terms of how it would affect the ranchers and large landowners. The land-use applications they would submit would be acceptable, he said.
But when they sell the land, the developers who buy it are interested in nothing more than breaking it up into 35-acre ranchettes for trophy homes.
He stripped the issue down to one of stewardship versus development of trophy homes.
The audience didn’t buy his approach.
Schlumberger said the highest and best use of the land isn’t agriculture, it’s housing. Taking that crop away from them is “a sin,” he said.
Ranchers Bill Fales and Francesca Fender said they disagreed with Shellman because they didn’t see how Pitkin County’s approach would preserve ranching.
Fales said many provisions in the county’s proposed land-use code amendments actually make it tougher to keep a ranch. Agricultural buildings are included in the allowable square footage that can be constructed, he noted. Therefore, it is hard to continue ranching if you want to build a house for your kids.
“For agriculture to continue we’ve got to bring the next generation in,” he said.
The county’s provisions “penalize those who have been busy ranching rather than hiring land-use attorneys and planners,” said Fales.
Connie Harvey asked the commissioners to work with ranchers rather than pass laws that will make them angry. She noted that an agricultural land trust has received voluntary conservation easements on 23,000 acres from ranchers in the Steamboat Springs area. Those easements restrict development.
Harvey said she would bet similar results could be achieved in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The commissioners ultimately agreed that a more thorough review of the proposed regulations is necessary. Both the planning and zoning commission and the commissioners will continue reviewing the proposal later this month.
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Peter Arnold’s playing career ended after high school, but his time on the ice continues a few decades later. A longtime USA Hockey official and new Aspen resident, Arnold is searching for the next generation of hockey referees among the youth ranks here in the Roaring Fork Valley.