House-size squabble may trip up deal for Aspen climbing area
September 10, 2009
ASPEN – Local climbers jonesing for access to Gold Butte near Aspen shouldn’t chalk their hands just yet.
Representatives of the landowner who offered to turn the climbing area over to Pitkin County failed to come away from a four-hour hearing before county commissioners Wednesday with an acceptable deal.
The key piece of the proposal is relocation of three approved, but unbuilt lots in the Red Butte Ranch subdivision on McLain Flats. Commissioners approved the relocation on a 4-1 vote, but with house-size caps that are unacceptable to landowner Bob Hurst, according to his representative, attorney Herb Klein.
An existing approval allows 8,500 square feet of above-ground space, plus up to 4,000 square feet of subgrade development on each lot. With relocation of the lots, homes of 8,500; 7,500 and 5,750 square feet were proposed, plus the 4,000 square feet of subgrade space on each lot.
Commissioners countered with what the county Planning and Zoning Commission recommended: 5,750 square feet of above-grade space on each lot, plus 2,500 square feet of subgrade space with the purchase of a transferable development right.
“It is a deal breaker for us,”Klein said. “It devalues the property.”
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Commissioner Michael Owsley voted against the plan, objecting to relocation of the homes to an area of the ranch that is closer to habitat elk use in the wintertime. His colleagues expressed reservations about the potential impacts on wildlife, but were adamant about the smaller homes.
“If it’s a deal breaker, we can all leave right now,” said Commissioner George Newman.
The approval on first reading will allow Klein to go back to his client to discuss the various conditions commissioners placed on the approval, including the house-size cap. The plat amendment requires a subsequent, final approval on second reading, if the landowner still wants to proceed.
Relocation of the lots was proposed to put the homes in a less visually intrusive area, according to Klein. Two of the five lots are already developed. The other three lots are currently located on the bluff overlooking the Roaring Fork River gorge and are quite visible from McLain Flats Road, Klein said.
The proposed new locations of the lots was adjusted after commissioners panned a previous iteration of the plan last spring.
With the latest proposal, Gold Butte and an ice climbing area were offered to the county. Both are located above the Rio Grande Trail and below McLain Flats.
Commissioners previously voiced concerns about the liability of owning a climbing area, but County Attorney John Ely advised them to consider the merits of the proposal and not be tripped up by that issue. There are some protections for the county under state law, he said.
“I would not allow the liability issues to dissuade you from considering the value of this kind of amenity,” Ely said.
The local climbing community would happily get involved in setting routes and constructing a trail to access the area, said Bob Wade, owner of local gear shop Ute Mountaineer and an avid climber. It would be a popular spot if it is reopened to the public, he predicted.
“The climbing community is together on this,” agreed Dirk Bockelmann, general manager of Aspen Expeditions. “I don’t think there’s any dissension in our loose organization.”
Commissioners appeared willing to take on the climbing area, though the other sticking points may prevent the amenity from coming into public hands.
Vested rights on the existing approvals for the unbuilt lots expire in October 2010. With the proposed plat amendment, an additional 20 years in which to build the homes was requested. A majority of commissioners were willing to stretch the new vesting period to 10 years, if the house-size caps are accepted.
Even if the current building approvals expire, the already-approved house size of 8,500 square feet per lot will remain in effect, Klein said.