Little middle ground in fight over future land-use rules
February 26, 2002
Emma resident Karen Ohlrich made her displeasure with the recently proposed changes to the county land-use rules crystal clear, especially with regards to the Fender family, ranchers who live next door to Ohlrich.
“The ranchers of Pitkin County should not be penalized for holding on to their ranching enterprises until now by having their land nest egg taken from them,” she wrote in a letter to the Pitkin County commissioners.
As far as nest eggs and the like are concerned, ranchers could be facing much bigger challenges than a proposal currently under consideration that would make it difficult for ranchers to carve up their land into 35-acre lots for homes. They could be facing the likes of Joe Edwards and his proposal to strip the egg from the nest, entirely.
After all, the county’s proposal in its most radical form would allow some development of luxury homes in areas that are currently occupied by cattle and wildlife. And four commissioners – Jack Hatfield, Dorothea Farris, Patti Clapper and Shellie Roy – backtracked from the latest proposal when they agreed last week to allow so-called monster homes in environmentally pristine areas.
For more than a year, Edwards, the former county commissioner who is considered the father of growth management, has been urging the county to eliminate residential development “by right” in land currently used for agriculture. The only houses allowed would be those deemed “reasonably necessary for a legitimate agricultural use and business.”
Edwards’ proposal first surfaced in a December 2000 letter to the county attorney and the community development director.
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“The large, recreational second homes that have decimated many farm and ranching areas would not be allowed, as they are incompatible with agricultural uses,” Edwards wrote.
It would allow a rancher like Bill Fales to build homes of up to 2,500 square feet for his immediate family members and employees. But Fales, who owns more than 500 acres along the Crystal River, would be prevented from converting a portion of his hayfield into a home for sale on the open market.
And just to make sure that ranchers don’t decimate the land with large recreational residences, Edwards would require them to go through the county’s special review process every time they wanted to build a new house.
Edwards also has a solution for the conversion of homes from primary residences occupied by locals to second homes occupied by part-time residents whose primary activity in the valley is recreation.
He would use the concept of a zone district overlay – a set of additional rules that is applied on top of the standard zoning rules that determine building size and use. It would require that homes in much of the county be occupied by people who live here full time.
It would require that any residential unit being used as a second home be converted to a principal place of residence for the owner/occupant within one year. To qualify as a principal residence, a home would have to be occupied on a full-time basis by residents at least nine months a year.
Edwards even went so far as to suggest amendments to the proposed change to the land-use code. In his proposed preamble to the section on allowed uses he wrote, “The conversion of existing housing to recreational part-time second homes has displaced residents from the area, causing a loss of social interaction and business. To maintain the viability of the community, it is necessary to have the residential units occupied by residents.”
The proposal for a resident-occupied zoning overlay has been around for more than a year. In a March 2001 letter to Julie Ann Woods, the city of Aspen’s community development director, Edwards wrote, “Already some 60 to 70 percent of your housing units are owned by non-residents, and if that trend is extended, a ghost town is in the future.”
He notes in his letter to the commissioners, which can be found on the county Web site, http://www.pitkingov.com, that the idea of limiting ownership to full-time residents has not been tried on the scale he is proposing. But he adds that he and other lawyers who have talked about the idea believe it is “constitutionally sound.”
“When I am no longer young and able to do the hard ranch work, I will sell my ranch,” Moon Run Ranch owner Holly McLain wrote in a letter that is also contained on the county Web site.
“It is imperative that I have the ability to build at least a 5,750-square-foot home,” she continued. “No one will buy this ranch without this option. And if I am forced to sell, without this option, my ranch will bring a pittance compared to the values of similar, neighboring properties.”
If Edwards had his way, McLain wouldn’t even get the 3,000-square-foot allowance for new residential development on 35-acre parcels that the county is currently mulling over. She’d get nothing.