Just call it the battle of the berm

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN During a busy Pitkin County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, two lawyered-up Owl Creek neighbors battled over a planned berm between their properties.One neighbor doesn’t want to see the other’s house – and the other doesn’t want to look out the window to see 4,200 cubic yards of earthworks topped with trees.The Owl Creek Meadows LLC owns Mandalay Ranch along Owl Creek Road, where members want to build a 4-foot-high berm, running 150 feet wide and 450 feet long, at the edge of the ranch. The group, headed by an executive from mortgage broker Ameriquest, was granted initial approval, but delayed the project so the work wouldn’t interrupt skier traffic along adjacent nordic trails, said Rick Knezevich, a lawyer representing the group.Neighbors Susan Crown and William Kunkler, speaking through attorney Boots Ferguson, appealed the decision to grant the extension, saying the procedure was incorrect under the new code. Owners of the Mandalay Ranch failed to make a written request for an extension on their initial January 2006 permit, and Ferguson called the extension “inconsistent” with conflicting and confusing county procedures.Knezevich countered that his client had gone through extensive, costly environmental, engineering and wetlands approvals, and that Ferguson was simply throwing a monkey wrench in the works with a “convoluted” appeal.County planning officials recommended that commissioners reject the appeal Wednesday, but the complex deliberation dragged on until the board went into a brief executive session.Commissioners commended the Mandalay Ranch owners for acting on the community’s behalf and protecting nordic trails, but said the two could have settled the matter as neighbors.”When two elephants fight, only the grass is damaged,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said, adding that the dispute does point out some ambiguities in the permitting process. The hearing was “waste of our time” and a “waste of their resources,” he said.”I’m really disappointed in both parties. This shouldn’t have come before us. You could have settled this,” Owsley said.Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the appeal. The berm builder will have to go back to the drawing board. The parties declined to comment.More complex issuesAnother complex issue required commissioners to revisit a land-use issue settled by lawsuit.Owners of the Chaparral Ranch asked the commissioners to reassess their 300-acre-plus ranch after they did not earn enough growth management points to build three additional rural cabins on the land.John Sarpa, a developer with the ranch, called the earlier assessment “unfair” and asked commissioners to reassess the property as a whole, not as individual 35-acre parcels, in the hopes of getting a better growth management score.Sarpa said that after approval in 2001 he made concessions to the board, including trail building and reduced square footage of the overall building, and expected to be granted the three additional 1,000-square-foot cabins.”It seems like a can of worms has been opened here,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield said when the board found Chaparral Ranch owners were not in compliance with an agreement to provide designated affordable housing and a space for a ranch manager.The board said no to the request to change the settlement agreement and look at the whole ranch – not just the small parcels – for growth management assessment. Hatfield and Dorothea Farris were in favor of amending the settlement, while Owsley, Rachel Richards and Patti Clapper opposed it.Sarpa said he was surprised to go through with this effort to reach an agreement and then be turned down in the end. Chaparral owners can still apply for a new growth assessment for the smaller parcels, the commissioners said.In other newsCommissioners let Woody Creek trailer park residents off the hook from a fire code provision requiring a costly sprinkler system in new and remodeled trailers.The board met with members of the fire district in a work session last week to discuss the issue. Though all admitted it was a good idea to install sprinklers, the board said there were no specialized sprinkler systems for trailers and that the code was not applied consistently elsewhere.”I didn’t come here to argue,” said Aspen Fire Marshal Ed Van Walraven, but he added that he “wanted to be on record,” saying he disagreed with the amendment to remove the requirement.Commissioners also approved an amendment to the airport master plan, allowing builders in the upcoming airport renovation to use excess dirt from the project to build earthen berms – which prevent light and noise pollution – at the southern end of the runway. The change means builders won’t have to move dirt off the site during construction. Commissioners also approved a new signage program at the airport.”It was a rough day,” Clapper said of the nearly five-hour meeting.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is