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Growth rules get mixed review

Jeremy Heiman

Some people say it goes too far, and others say it doesn’t go far enough. And it one person says it will end up in court.

A day after Pitkin County approved its package of growth-management legislation, locals were talking Tuesday about what’s right with the package and what’s wrong with it.

Under the regulations, new homes of up to 5,750 square feet – that includes the living space, garage and basement – will be allowed without going through a growth-management system that limits the number of homes that can be built and forces projects to compete for allotments. Previously, houses of up to 15,000 square feet were allowed.

Owners of existing homes will be allowed to add up to 1,000 square feet without having to go through the purposely onerous competition. The restrictions on large residential development are intended to slow the growth of the service-industry jobs needed to maintain larger houses.

But members of the real estate and development community have fought the legislation since news of it first surfaced, when Pitkin County declared a moratorium on the construction of large houses on Jan. 12. It ended Monday with adoption of the new legislation.

Joshua Saslove, an Aspen realtor, said the growth regulations will draw legal challenges. “There will be lawsuits filed, and it will be tested at that point, if it’s not turned around sooner by a change in government,” he predicted yesterday.

Saslove questioned the justification for the growth-management legislation – a study of employment generation done by county planner Gabe Preston. “The conclusions drawn by that study are false,” he insisted.

Realtor Janine Sharkey said she has lived in Pitkin County since the first growth-management ordinances, which she referred to as “social engineering, were put in effect in 1976. The county government has made living in Pitkin County less attainable through the new legislation, she asserted.

Growth should be addressed by refusing to build employee housing, not by building it, Sharkey said.

“If you don’t make the employees available, then they have to either bring their own, go somewhere else or build a smaller house,” Sharkey said. This in turn will gradually reduce demand for employees, she concluded.

Sharkey also noted that, by including basement and garage in the 5,750 square feet allowed for new houses, the new legislation doesn’t really allow enough room for a family and the recreational equipment valley residents generally have.

The legislation also contributes to a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, needed to interpret and enforce it, she said. “They have just created a whole new layer of jobs, for which they will need to find housing,” she said. “It just keeps going around and around.”

Independent land-use planner Francis Krizmanich, a former county planner, said he’s not optimistic that the regulations will accomplish what they are intended to.

“I don’t believe this legislation is supported by the facts,” Krizmanich said. He said he expects one result will be property values rising even higher than today.

As for the premise the legislation was based on – that larger houses generate more employees – Krizmanich said the work resulting in that information is not reliable.

“I don’t believe their studies are statistically valid,” he said.

But attorney Dwight Shellman said the connection between large houses and increasing employee numbers is evident.

“It would be hard to deny that,” he said. As a Pitkin County commissioner in 1976, Shellman helped create the first round of growth-management regulations.

Ron Erickson, an Aspen realtor and property manager, said he thinks the new legislation doesn’t do enough.

“They always err on the conservative side,” said Erickson, who contends government needs to get ahead of growth. “As long as we’re reactionary, we’re never going to catch up,” he said.

“I’m a little disappointed they didn’t tie it in to employee housing,” he continued. He said he regrets that county officials abandoned the so-called “fair share” legislation, once part of the package, which would have exacted funds for worker housing from new development.

But Erickson admits he doesn’t know how better to deal with growth. “I don’t know what to do. Maybe pay people to move out?”

Realtor Rich Wagar worried that the new rules will have an unintended effect on the construction industry and related professions.

“The impact that I see is on the people who make their living off construction,” Wagar said. That includes builders and tradesmen, but also architects, draftsmen, blueprinters and others, he said.

Through the multiplier effect, a lot of people in the local economy are affected, because each dollar turns over an average of nine times before leaving town, he said.

Wagar said the effect would be felt in the small building projects and redevelopment that is the bread and butter of local builders. That level of development is sustainable, he said, and should be supported.

The anti-big house talk at public meetings also breeds polarization between the “haves and have nots,” Wagar said. “That I philosophically disagree with.”

He said past growth-control efforts have been successful, and should be maintained at the current level.

“I think we’ve done a great job with our growth management. I don’t think we have a problem here,” he said. “I just think people who want to restrict growth shouldn’t have kids themselves.”


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