Letters warn revisions could devalue land
Letters sent to property owners in Pitkin County from a local real estate agent and an architect may be causing a premature panic over upcoming land-use code revisions, officials say.Real estate agent Michael Cooper and architect Charles Cunniffe sent letters in December and January warning potential clients that changes to the code might devalue property so landowners might consider either selling or building quickly before the changes are enacted.In an interview, Cooper said he would not characterize his action as a “scare letter,” but he would not comment on why he sent it. Cunniffe could not be reached for comment.The Pitkin County Land Use Code, the set of rules that lays the basic groundwork for development throughout the county, has not been revised for the past 10 years. County commissioners are now in the midst of retooling the code, but they say a draft might not be completed until this fall.Cooper’s letter warns property owners that their properties “could lose half their market value” after the code is changed, and Cunniffe’s letter says the changes “might radically affect the property values within the set Urban Growth Boundary.”Both letters encourage property owners to act quickly and either look into selling their property if they don’t plan to develop, or to draw up development plans as soon as possible.But county officials say any specifics about the code changes are pure speculation, since firm decisions have yet to be made. They understand property owners’ concern but say it’s too soon to panic.”I can understand it, but it’s pretty premature,” said Cindy Houben, director of the county’s community development department. “It’s kind of a ‘the sky is falling’ mentality, and it’s unfortunate that people aren’t a little more informed about when all this will happen and the input they’ll have.”Both Houben and county Commissioner Patti Clapper have tried to be emphatic about public participation in the code rewrite. Houben said that starting now, through the fall of 2005, the public can review the draft of the code changes, and give the county their comments.Lance Clarke, the county’s assistant community development director, said he has noticed a “surge of inquiries” about the future of the land use code from architects and property owners.”I would say there hasn’t been a surge of permits yet, because it takes a while for people to put together their plans and go through the process,” he said. “But my guess is from the discussions I’ve had from people, there will be a surge before long.”Cooper and Cunniffe’s letters say they learned about the upcoming changes to the code from planner Glenn Horn of Davis Horn Inc. Since Horn is on the technical advisory committee for the code, Horn said, Cooper asked him to write a letter explaining the main “themes and directions” of the changes in the code. Horn said that after analyzing the underdeveloped properties in the Aspen area, Cooper then sent out a letter to property owners, attaching Horn’s letter to it.In his letter, Horn says one thing that could change is house size within the county’s urban growth boundary. Although nothing is certain yet, the code could lower house size within the boundary from 15,000 square feet to 5,750 square feet, as was amended to rural areas several years ago. Horn said he has never seen the accompanying letter that Cooper wrote to property owners. But he said he can understand where the concern is coming from since in the past land-use regulations in the county have gotten more restrictive.”We’re talking about really valuable land, so people want to keep an eye on it,” Horn said. “For most people their homes are their biggest assets, so they need to check this out.”But he also noted that the adoption process of the code will probably take much longer than anticipated.”In the fall of 1989, the existing land use code was completed in draft form,” he said. “It wasn’t adopted until April of 1994. It’s been a slow process in past practice because a lot of people care. I’m sure there will be a lot of public discussion and debate.” Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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