Maroon Creek house in debris-flow area to get more review |

Maroon Creek house in debris-flow area to get more review

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen CO Colorado
Janet Urquhart The Aspen Times

ASPEN – Neighbors of a proposed Maroon Creek Valley house prevailed Monday in convincing Pitkin County commissioners to give its placement, on a hillside prone to debris flows, additional review. Commissioners also agreed to limit the size of the structure.Consultants, attorneys and some of the involved property owners crowded the commissioners’ meeting room for a nearly five-hour appeals hearing. At its close, commissioners voted 3-2 to remand the issue of the proposed home site back to county hearing officer Jim True for further review to determine whether there’s a better spot to put the house to protect both its owners and neighbors from debris. In the minority, Commissioners Rachel Richards and Rob Ittner said they couldn’t conclude True had erred in approving the house site as it was proposed. True had concluded the hazards of debris flow could be mitigated at the proposed house site to the extent they could be mitigated elsewhere on the property.True, however, denied the use of three transferable development rights, or TDRs, to increase the size of the house from 8,250 square feet to 15,000 square feet, reasoning that the additional square footage was unreasonable on a site that is subject to debris hazards. Commissioners upheld that ruling with Ittner and Commissioner Jack Hatfield dissenting. They argued that if the house is moved to a different site, more square footage may be acceptable.Celestial Land Co. has proposed construction of the house, dubbed The Eagle’s Nest. Fighting the development are neighboring homeowners Tom and Margot Pritzker, who built a roughly 14,000-square-foot home on the far side of the large meadow just below the T-Lazy-Seven Ranch on Maroon Creek Road. A short distance up the valley is a caretaker unit/barn owned by the Pritzkers, which is near the proposed Celestial home site. The Pritzker property is held under the name Roaring Fork Land & Cattle Co.Three other property owners, JM Skyways, James and Katherine Bulkley, and the Bruce E. Carlson Trust, were also involved in appealing the site of the Celestial home, while Celestial appealed True’s denial of use of TDRs for a larger home.Commissioners heard lengthy presentations from both Celestial and the neighbors’ representatives on the potential for debris flows coming off the steep slopes, which extend downward from the cliffs on the eastern edge of Buttermilk Ski Area. The neighbors contend the proposed Celestial house, along with a roughly 300-foot retaining wall to protect it from debris, could send the material in the direction of their homes. The Celestial plan also calls for a detention basin with capacity for 32,000 cubic feet of material in the event of a “100-year” flow event.Celestial has placed its proposed home to take advantage of a commanding view of Pyramid Peak, without concern for its impact on neighboring properties, said attorney Mark Hamilton, representing the Bulkeys.”The code doesn’t ensure a property owner gets to develop on the most desirable site on the property,” said land-use planner Glenn Horn, representing some of the neighbors.”We’re not saying we have an entitlement. We’re just saying we’ve met the requirements of the code,” countered land-use planner Stan Clauson, representing Celestial. He also urged the county to be consistent in applying its land-use code regulations, noting the Pritzker home is located in a flow zone and protected by a retaining wall, as well.The Celestial development has been subjected to unprecedented geologic assessment for the county review, Clauson added. He also said the alternative site for the home suggested by neighbors would create greater visual impacts. The risk from debris flows to adjacent homes is not altered by the proposed house, Celestial consultants said.”Nothing is gained by moving anything to the alternative site,” Clauson said. “We’re not exacerbating the situation in any respect.”A more visible home elsewhere on the Celestial property is of less concern than the debris issue for neighbors, Horn responded.”You have to realize the visual impacts are something we’re willing to accept in order to have a safe location,” he said.Commissioners acknowledged the challenge in weighing the assertions made by both sides.”Perhaps you could call it conjecture among dueling experts,” Richards said.”I’m torn because I think no matter what happens on this site, the site is dangerous,” said Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “There probably shouldn’t be any development here,” he said, noting Celestial nonetheless has a right to development the 35-acre lot.Commissioner Michael Owsley said the neighborhood should have united to come up with a plan that protects everyone instead of engaging in a protracted battle that he called “a waste.””I know that’s sort of aspirational and that’s not what’s happened, but that’s what should have happened,” he said.After the home site issue goes back to the hearing officer, one side or the other could then appeal the new ruling to commissioners, according to John Ely, county attorney. The matter could ultimately wind up in court, if any of the parties wish to pursue a legal remedy, he told commissioners during a briefing last

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