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Growth task force split on fruits of its labors

Allyn Harvey

In the end, the skeptics of radical changes to Pitkin County’s land-use code remained skeptical and the enthusiasts remained enthusiastic.

The final meeting of the Growth Management Task Force ended Thursday night with mixed sentiments about the process and the direction that the county’s elected leaders are taking.

The county commissioners and the Planning and Zoning Commission meet tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss the legislation that will impose impact fees on residential construction and close loopholes in the growth-management system.

The task force, made up of representatives from various neighborhoods and the development community, was convened in mid-February to give the county commissioners and planning staff direction on how the rules should be changed. But after a half-dozen meetings that ran four hours a clip, many of the participants wondered if all their work had been for naught.

“I have more questions now than when we started,” said Aspen attorney Brooke Peterson. “I think this could end up creating more rancor, more bad feelings – whatever this us versus them attitude has been in this community – and I don’t think it’s healthy.”

Peterson added that he thought the county was ignoring long-held property rights.

“Starwood, and I personally, do not support the concepts and outcomes that this process seems to be leading toward,” said Meg Haynes, president of the gated community’s homeowners association.

Haynes expressed concern about new fees and other mitigation that will be required of lot owners in Starwood, who have argued in their appeal of the moratorium that they should be exempt from its sharp, albeit temporary, curbs on construction of large homes.

Moratorium critic Mike Maple expressed dismay with both the process and the draft legislation that was circulated last week. “When I got involved, I thought I would know more about what’s coming out in this legislation. I’m quite sure now that I know less,” he said.

Maple is particularly critical of a report prepared by consultants at Denver-based Clarion Associates that links growth in employment and the demand for affordable housing to construction and remodeling of luxury housing. He pointed out that community members who had specifically said they wanted to present their data and experience to the consultants were not contacted.

Crystal Valley Caucus representative Madhavi Bradford wondered if the legislation that comes out in the end will reflect much of what was discussed by the task force. “We’ve all been well listened to, but I’m not sure anything we’ve said has made any difference at all,” she said.

Bradford reiterated her concern that Aspen’s and the upper valley’s problems may be exported downvalley as a result of the changes. It’s a worry shared by many downvalley residents. She urged the commissioners to watch out for blanket solutions that may not work up the Crystal. `Healthy dialogue’ Other task force members were more complimentary, however. Ron Sorter, another Crystal Valley resident, credited the county and the task force members for getting so much done in so little time. If he had his druthers however, Sorter says he’d have owners of big houses pay more than their fair share.

“I think there’s been a healthy dialogue from many different positions on the details of the process,” said real estate broker Phil Miller. He pointed out that growth control, historical preservation and other measures meant to protect the community have worked out for the benefit of everyone – locals, visitors and second-home owners.

“How can someone argue against paying their own fair share,” asked Planning and Zoning Commissioner Charlie Tarver. He said it was absurd for the people most able to afford to pay for infrastructure improvements and affordable housing to fight it so vehemently.

Tarver, one of the staunchest supporters of the proposed changes, also said the county should not be tripped up by arguments that the data gathered in three studies is not perfect. “To accept the idea that the numbers aren’t good enough to go forward is wrong-headed,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Peter Thomas said he supports the premise behind the moratorium and code changes. But he is worried the new legislation does not address one of the most important issues of all: preservation and cultivation of the middle class.

“I see more and more of my friends – young, white-collar professionals – who move away because they can’t afford to live here,” he said. Thomas suggested the county needed to find ways to cut fees and costs to potential middle-class homeowners.

“Smoothing out the fees and simplifying the system doesn’t protect the middle class,” replied County Commissioner Mick Ireland.

Ireland said the code changes are aimed at cutting subsidies to the very wealthy who are currently moving into Pitkin County and driving home prices even higher. Citing a study commissioned by the Starwood Homeowners Association, Ireland pointed out that Pitkin County collects roughly $108,000 in property taxes each year from the entire subdivision – just enough to maintain two miles of county road.

“Even with these changes, we are going to continue, as a community, to subsidize luxury housing,” he said.

Like Tarver, Commissioner Leslie Lamont said that questions raised about the data should not stop the county from moving ahead, especially since the issues here are so similar to other communities. “Implementing impact fees is not rocket science,” she said.

Lamont and Commissioner Patti Clapper both promised that the comments gathered from the task force will be factored into the final legislation.

Commissioner Shellie Harper promised to keep the concerns of downvalley communities in mind. “I’m not going to impose Aspen’s solution that they came up with 24 years ago on another valley. But I am going to work closely with people in the Crystal to make sure they develop a fair solution,” she said.

Commissioner Dorothea Farris summed up her brief comments in one sentence: “If we don’t act now together as a group, and do it soon, we’re not going to have much worth saving.”


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