It’s True: Pitco asks former politician to hear land-use cases
Aspen attorney and former Pitkin County Commissioner James R. True has been chosen by Pitkin County to be the county’s hearing officer.True is currently the hearing officer on the controversial Droste land-use application. He was brought in after a potential conflict of interest from another county staffer but will now be making other decisions for the county on a permanent basis.”Jim has been used as a hearing officer for a couple of things before,” said Cindy Houben, Pitkin County’s director of community development. “He does a great job, and it was kind of the natural next step to say `can you do more?'”In addition to being an attorney, True served two terms as a county commissioner from 1988 to 1996 and understands the nuances of the county’s complicated land-use code.But unlike most of his professional peers in Aspen, True brings very few land-use items before the county commissioners, which reduces the likelihood he will have a professional conflict with land-use applications that come before him as hearing officer.”Ideally, you would like to hire someone from the outside to make these decisions,” Houben said. “We just never really had the budget for it before.”True will charge the county by the hour for his time, but at a reduced rate from his normal fees, Houben said.The hearing officer function is relatively new in Pitkin County, at least in regard to land-use applications. A hearing officer has been used in the past to resolve issues related to personnel, the airport and other county functions. But when a landowner came to Pitkin County and needed a decision on an application, the full county planning and zoning board would usually have to make a decision.Seeking a way to streamline the review process, Houben turned to an outside hearing officer to make decisions about fairly straightforward land-use applications that deal with scenic review or 1041 review, which usually involves mitigation to avoid hazards such as mudslides, wildfire or floods.”The public hearing officer review has been such a godsend,” said Houben. “It’s gotten people through the process much quicker and for less money. And we’ve gotten 30 percent of the caseload off of P&Z’s plate.”Up until this month, the hearing officer has usually been a county staffer from the community development department serving in a judgmental capacity.However, Lance Clarke, deputy director of the development department, recently recused himself from serving as the hearing officer on the Droste application due to a potential conflict of interest.Peter Droste is seeking approval for an elaborate access road and driveway in order to build the first of up to 20 homes on the ridge between Owl Creek and Brush Creek.When Clarke stepped aside, the county turned to True to render a decision on Droste, and now he’ll also be sitting in judgment as hearing officer on the third Tuesday of each month.
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