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PitCo commissioners says they must get on with business despite video meetings

Horses graze in a pasture off of Owl Creek Road on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Pitkin County is considering revisions to growth management rules that keep density low in the rural parts of the county. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Pitkin County commissioners insisted Wednesday they cannot put county business on hold because of the pandemic.

The discussion arose Wednesday while the board was considering proposed revisions to the county’s growth management quota system — complicated rules designed to pace development and coax public amenities out of developers.

Numerous land-use planners and attorneys lobbied the board to table the proposed changes until the public can attend county commissioner meetings in person again. The county switched to video conferences because of the social-distancing requirements and bans on large gatherings to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Aspen attorney John Belkin said it is “important to the public to watch their elected officials” debate issues in person. He said he appreciates the difficultly that local governments face while trying to conduct business during a pandemic, but he didn’t see the growth-management tweaks as something that must be tackled at a troubling time.

“We don’t understand the rush,” Belkin said.

A letter signed by 20 representatives of Aspen-area planning or law firms was submitted to ask the county to table the proposed revisions until there could be a thorough, in-person debate.

The commissioners are conducting meetings by having at least one board member in the meeting chamber. On Wednesday, both board chairman Steve Child and member Patti Clapper were in the room while George Newman, Kelly McNicholas Kury and Greg Poschman participated via Zoom. The meeting was live streamed by GrassRoots TV.

The sound quality using the video conferencing was tinny at times, but generally understandable. County staff and the public were able to offer comments.

Newman raised the point early in the meeting that the county must continue to go about its business despite the necessary changes. He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court is using teleconferences to conduct business, so it will work for Pitkin County, as well.

“We can’t stop the work of the county living in the midst of this crisis,” he said.

Poschman reinforced the sentiment.

“I’m going to call this the new normal,” he said. “This is how it’s going to go for the foreseeable future.”

The commissioners ended up tabling a second reading of the revisions to the growth management rules until May 13, but not because of concerns over meeting formats. They wanted to give the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission additional time to review the changes suggested by the county staff.

The commissioners agreed that the entire growth-management quota system process needs a broader overhaul beyond the suggested tweaks. The bigger picture issues will be addressed later in the year.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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