Mega-driveway proposal flusters Pitkin County commissioners
Special to The Aspen Times
Monstrosity. Abomination. P-I-G.
Those were just a few of the words used at a Wednesday meeting of the Pitkin County commissioners to describe a massive driveway proposed to access a 62-acre residential property off Woody Creek Road.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that everyone in the room disliked the proposed driveway — commissioners, county staff members, neighbors and even the property owner’s representative — it seems to be the best available option to access a mesa-top lot just north of the road.
“The only thing I can say is we’ve tried to make this as good as possible, given that there is no good solution,” said Jim Curtis, representative for the Stranahan family, which owns the property.
Planner Suzanne Wolff said “the only way to put a driveway in here is a big cut.” The owners have done “the best job possible to address the concerns and reduce the visual impact.”
Others were more blunt about the proposed access road, which would climb a steep hillside and require several tiered retaining walls between 7 and 14 feet apiece.
“There is a solution to this, and the solution is not to build this road. It’s that simple,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. “It’ll be a sorry day in Woody Creek when this owner decides to build this road.”
Margaret Reckling, who lives across the street, said, “I just hate to see this natural landscape and wildlife corridor be disrupted by this monstrosity. … I just think we’re really failing.”
In 2011, Pitkin County denied permission for construction of the driveway because it crosses slopes exceeding 45 degrees, where the land-use code prohibits development. But the county later discovered that denying access to the owners constitutes an illegal “taking” of property rights.
The Stranahan family — in this case, the five adult children of George and Patricia Stranahan — came back with six different driveway alignments, and the one that came before commissioners Wednesday was the option chosen. Still, despite being legally obliged to approve the application, commissioners could not find the will to approve the mega-driveway or deny it.
So they continued the matter for a month in the hope that an alternative can be found.
Two existing ranch roads already access the Stranahan lot, but both pass through neighboring properties, and the owners of those parcels have declined to allow the driveway. Curtis has offered the lot in question to Pitkin County’s open space program at a deeply discounted price, but that offer was rejected. After several years of effort to find a better access route, Curtis told commissioners, “I’m not taking the lead” on the monthlong search for a magic bullet.
Commissioners offered suggestions, which county staff members apparently will explore. Commissioner Steve Child wondered if the Stranahans, who own many acres in the Woody Creek area, would be willing to transfer the development right from this particular parcel to another lot. He also wondered if the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife might be interested in the parcel as wildlife habitat. Commissioner Rachel Richards said the county is unlikely to buy the property outright but might consider joining hands with a group of neighbors or other entities.
“I would encourage the parties to continue to act, but this needs to be a Woody Creek effort,” Richards said.
When asked afterward if the owners are determined to build, Curtis said “they have this asset, and they want to do something with it.” His clients are open to alternatives, however, including offers from potential buyers. Thus far, no alternatives to the mega-driveway have emerged.
“For better or worse, I’ve been living with this issue since 2010, and every conversation is ‘Someone else should solve the problem,’” Curtis told the commissioners. “With due respect, there is not a magic solution out there.”
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