Land-use attorneys, planners lobby PitCo to shelve proposed growth revisions |

Land-use attorneys, planners lobby PitCo to shelve proposed growth revisions

Owl Creek Road is empty in this shot from spring 2019. Pitkin County has growth control measures in place to limit development outside of Aspen.
David Krause/The Aspen Times

Aspen-area land-use attorneys and planners are pressing Pitkin County commissioners to table proposed changes to growth control rules until after the pandemic threat eases and the public can attend official meetings again.

Representatives of more than 20 law or planning firms signed onto a letter to the commissioners to express concerns about a public hearing and second reading of the rule changes set for Wednesday. The commissioners have started holding their meetings via video conferencing, though at least one commissioner is in chambers at the time. The public watches the meetings live and calls or writes with comments.

“Debating and voting on this ordinance with no members of the public present and in person on account of state and local ‘shelter-in-place’ restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic is unfair and inconsistent with Colorado’s open meetings and Sunshine law requirements,” said the letter from the land-use planning and legal industry. “Allowing the public to simply call in via Zoom or other teleconference technology does not allow for meaningful public input.”

The proposed rule changes that riled the industry would alter the complicated growth management quota system for residential development in Pitkin County. The county initiated a competitive system for a limited number of development allotments more than 40 years ago. The rules are designed to limit the number of homes and the pace of development. The process forces developers to provide public benefits to achieve a better “score” for their project. Landowners with a higher score secure an allotment.

The process has been tweaked over time and still has deficiencies, according to both the industry and county officials.

In a memo to the commissioners, the county staff said the proposed changes improve the growth management quota system process.

“Streamlining the GMQS process and clarifying how it works saves staff time and, thus has a positive budgetary impact,” the staff memo said.

The county attorney’s staff recommended that the commissioners adopt the ordinance on second reading.

One of the biggest complaints among industry planners and attorneys is a proposal that allotments would expire after three years if a building permit application hasn’t been filed. Currently the allotments don’t expire. The opponents contend it is unfair that a public amenity such as a fishing easement or reduced amount of development would have to be given by the landowner in perpetuity even if the allotment expires in three years.

Another beef in the industry is the county’s proposal to combine competition for residences in the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal valleys. They contend higher prices in the Roaring Fork Valley will provide landowners with an unfair competitive advantage because higher real estate prices allow them to offer more goodies to achieve a higher score.

The revisions will be discussed in the land-use section of the commissioners’ agenda, toward the end of a meeting scheduled to start at noon.

While the argument over complicated land-use regulations is over the heads of most average citizens, the dispute is interesting because it raises questions about citizen participation in local government in the pandemic and possibly post-pandemic world. Nearly all elected boards of municipalities, counties and special taxing districts in the region have switched to video conferencing. That limits public participation to those who have access and some skill level with social media. As governments weigh meaty matters, the frustration of citizens and stakeholders could rise because of the lack of direct participation.