Institute expansion takes a hit

Joel Stonington

County commissioners dealt a blow to the expansion of Rocky Mountain Institute on Tuesday. Commissioners voted to prohibit the development of public institutions in rural, undeveloped areas of the county. But the commissioners supported expansions of up to 20 percent at existing institutes.The measure, which the county Planning and Zoning Commission recommended, passed on first reading and will require another vote. The change would make it more difficult for a public institution to expand more than 20 percent if it is in a rural area. The decision affected Rocky Mountain Institute’s proposed expansion of a 15,000-square-foot building, 12 units of employee housing and 50 parking spaces off Snowmass Creek Road in a rural area in Old Snowmass. The development is less than 30 acres on more than 900 acres at the Windstar Land Conservancy. The Rocky Mountain Institute is a nonprofit think tank that focuses on resources issues.Homeowners from Old Snowmass packed the conference room of the county building during the discussion. Public comments focused on the fact that Old Snowmass is zoned rural and residential. Nearly 150 residents signed a petition against the expansion. “I have a growing organization,” said Kevin Ward, executive director of the Aspen Center for Physics and a homeowner in Snowmass. “It would never occur to me to take that environment and put my institute out there.”Though the topic was about changes to the land-use code in general, Rocky Mountain Institute is the only organization that would immediately be affected.The commissioners did not, however, close the door on the development of affordable housing, which commissioners will discuss later. Commissioners also left open the possibility of allowing agricultural institutes. Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is


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