Large homes OK in rural areas, commissioners say | AspenTimes.com

Large homes OK in rural areas, commissioners say

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The Pitkin County commissioners agreed yesterday that homes of 15,000 square feet or larger should be allowed in rural areas under certain conditions.

By a 4-1 majority, the commissioners agreed that developers should be allowed to build one home of up to 15,000 square feet on a 500-acre parcel of land.

The decision is a significant step back from the proposal that is currently under consideration, to drastically reduce development on large parcels of undeveloped land.

The sole dissenter on the board, Mick Ireland, said the decision was a setback, and marked a shift in the basic terms of the debate about the land-use code from one of character to one of intensity.

“I think houses in excess of 5,750 square feet are not residences. I think they are statements,” he said.

Ireland has been the most consistent and outspoken supporter of the current proposal for rural zoning, known as “resource conservation.” It contains a number of disincentives to discourage ranchers or developers from carving large parcels into 35-acre lots for residential development.

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Until yesterday, the proposed resource conservation zone limited house sizes to 5,750 square feet, and then only if the developer agreed to give up some of his development rights by creating 100-acre lots. There was no provision to allow larger homes.

The decision to retain some form of the 500-acre subdivision exemption, which exempts the developer from much of the county’s review process and mitigation requirements and is part of the current land-use code, was a struggle for two commissioners.

Both Jack Hatfield and Dorothea Farris said they had a lot of trouble supporting “mini castles” on land that is currently used for agriculture. But they cited the preservation potential of limiting development to a single, large home on such a large parcel as reason for supporting the idea.

At one point, when the commissioners were discussing whether to allow a 30,000-square-foot house on a 1,000-acre parcel, Hatfield said he was “gagging” over the idea of 15,000 square feet.

Nonetheless, he said, “I think there is a community benefit when a guy comes in and purchases a 500-acre parcel and builds one house without developing the rest of the land.”

Commissioner Shellie Roy was the most enthusiastic supporter of large homes in rural Pitkin County. Roy and fellow commissioner Patti Clapper were the most willing to give developers wide flexibility in developing a 500-acre parcel.

But in the end, they failed to convince their fellow commissioners to allow a developer to use the 15,000 square feet of development to build as many residences as he sees fit.

“You could end up with ten 15,000-square-foot houses,” Farris said. “I don’t want to see that.”

By the end of yesterday’s meeting, the commissioners had, at least preliminarily, cleared up many of the details of the 500-acre lot rule. Those who opt into the program will be allowed to build one home of up to 15,000 square feet, and they will not have to go through the county’s growth management review process. But developers will not be allowed to build any more residential buildings on the land, they will be barred from subdividing the parcel any further, and they will forego the transferable development rights that are available through other development options.

The reaction from several ranchers in the room at yesterday’s work session was mostly negative.

Bill Fales, who owns more than 500 acres in the Crystal River Valley, pointed out that the 15,000-square-foot option reduces the total square footage allowed by even more than the county was contemplating with the resource conservation zone. But Ireland pointed out that the 500-acre lot was just an option, and it doesn’t preclude ranchers or developers from choosing some other development pattern that will be allowed under the new rules.

Bob Perry, who also owns ranch lands in the Crystal River drainage, wasn’t too impressed, either. He said it isn’t right for the county to take away so much flexibility and, as a result, value from the land.

But Roz Turnbull, whose 2,500-acre ranch is in three valleys – the Crystal River, Prince Creek and West Sopris Creek – said she was encouraged that the commissioners were willing to consider other ideas.

“You know what we’re getting?” Turnbull asked. “We’re getting some options that get away from the one-size-fits-all proposal.”

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