Just a few hundred feet divide Redstone residents

Allyn Harvey

County officials and Redstone residents alike recognize that they are at a critical juncture in the mining village’s history.

And the importance of that juncture has created sharp differences of opinion over proposed changes to the land-use rules that govern development in Redstone. The community on the National Registry of Historic Places is located about 15 miles up the Crystal River Valley from Carbondale.

On one side are those looking to keep the size of the buildings along Redstone Boulevard, the main drag, in scale with the mining community built by industrialist John C. Osgood in the late 1800s. On the other side are residents and business owners, some who have been there for decades, who want to be able to build larger, albeit still modest, homes and businesses.

Both sides reckon Redstone as it currently exists may be doomed unless their point of view prevails, even though their difference of opinion amounts to just a few hundred square feet per building.

In a four-hour meeting at the Redstone Church Tuesday, the Pitkin County commissioners considered new zoning rules that would set strict limits on the size of buildings in both the residential and commercial areas.

Under the proposal, building heights would be capped on all lots in the village at 24 feet to the ridge of the roof line, down from the 28 feet currently allowed.

In the residential area, the maximum size for the principal structure would be set at 1,700 square feet; an accessory building of 300 square feet would also be allowed.

In the commercial area, the maximum size for the principal structure would be set at 1,800 square feet with an accessory building of up to 500 square feet; the proposed commercial zoning, like the existing zoning, allows for mixed-use buildings that contain both the living and business space of the owner.

“What we’ve tried to do, frankly, is lower the allowable floor area and height,” said Lance Clarke, Pitkin County’s deputy director of community development, at the end of his presentation.

But the county is proposing a few incentives and benefits for property owners in Redstone. Owners of large lots would be allowed, for instance, to subdivide their property with relative ease and create 5,000-square-foot lots (50-by-100 feet) for development.

Such subdividers would be exempt from the county’s arduous growth-management process, as well. Also, all lots in the floodplain of the Crystal River would be exempt from the county rule barring development in such areas.

The majority of those present at Tuesday’s hearing weren’t impressed with either the new restrictions or the new incentives, however. Most, in fact, were business owners wondering how they were supposed to expand their businesses. For those who live and work in the same building, 1,800 square feet seemed to be an impossibly small number.

Bob McCormick, who, with his wife, owns two businesses in Redstone, pointed out that the vast majority of buildings in the commercial area will be thrown out of compliance if the new rules are adopted, including three buildings he owns.

“You’re not preserving the existing commercial area if you make the entire commercial zone nonconforming,” McCormick’s attorney Jody Edwards said.

The rules proposed by the county address that issue by specifically allowing nonconforming structures to remain in place and be replaced, if necessary. The buildings could not, however, be expanded.

But McCormick, who has lived and worked in Redstone for more than 30 years, pointed out that the average size of the buildings in the commercial core is 3,500 square feet and most are about 28 feet high – so they would all be nonconforming.

“I urge you to send this back to the staff for more work,” McCormick said. “We’re not just buildings here – we’re a community of people.”

Many who testified expressed similar concerns.

“I’m scared stiff that the businesses will start closing and becoming second homes for people,” said Martin Fiala, a Redstone resident, business owner and former candidate for county commissioner.

He suggested it will begin a downward spiral that will ultimately turn Redstone into a ghost town for much of the year.

Fiala proposed that a single building of up to 2,400 square feet be allowed on lots in the commercial area, instead of two structures of 1,800 and 500 square feet.

Over and over again, throughout the evening, business owners like Fiala suggested that the only difference between what they need to be viable and what the county is proposing is a few hundred square feet.

“Let’s work out a compromise we can live with,” Fiala said.

At the other end of the debate, however, were folks like Peter and Ann Martin, longtime residents who, if they had their druthers, would cap building sizes even smaller than currently proposed.

Peter Martin urged the county to go ahead with its current proposal, which he said already is a compromise between the two sides and is in line with the ongoing effort to preserve Redstone that began in the early 1980s.

“You’ve got all the facts – you’re never going to get unanimity out here,” he said, waving his hand toward all the people in the room.

And in the middle of the debate were people like Brian Olesen, a 17-year resident who worked on the committee that wrote the land-use master plan that currently governs land use in Redstone.

“Back then we were concerned about too much prosperity,” Olesen said. “Things have changed since then: Redstone is not a prosperous community anymore.”

Olesen suggested the commissioners leave the current zoning in place, but make it harder to build large buildings by disallowing the current practice of using so-called A lots, unusable property running up the steep hill, to calculate building size.

The zoning changes were in fact proposed mostly in response to a few property owners who used their A lots to beef up the size of their lots and build bigger buildings. Olesen and others who worked on the 1993 master plan never intended for the A lots to be factored in when it comes to determining building size.

The commissioners agreed that many of the objections raised were valid. They passed the new rules, as proposed, on first reading at the end of the hearing. But they delayed a second and perhaps final reading until later this spring and asked the objectors to put together a viable alternative proposal.