Muddled land-use code draws land owner’s ire |

Muddled land-use code draws land owner’s ire

One of the largest potential developments in the history of the Crystal River Valley has become an exclamation point in the ongoing debate about land use in Pitkin County.

“And you wonder why we’re trying to amend the land-use code?” said one county commissioner last week, shortly after hearing a proposal to build 25 homes on 975 acres.

And while some in the county see the impacts of Richard Jelinek’s Crystal Island Ranch proposal as a potential problem, many neighbors see it as something else.

“Richard has involved every neighbor on Thomas Road throughout the process,” said Skip Harutun, a 15-year resident and spokesman from the Thomas Bridge Association. “We believe conceptually this is a good project.”

Harutun’s comments came in spite of the fact that Jelinek’s project poses many very real threats to the neighborhood. Those threats were raised in a letter to the county last fall by the Thomas Bridge Association, a neighborhood group that raises funds to maintain a bridge in the neighborhood.

It would more than double traffic on the road and the bridge that is currently maintained by 18 homeowners. More than two dozen septic systems would go in immediately above the aquifer that the existing homes rely on for their water supply. And the construction of a large riding arena makes it more likely that some kind of commercial equestrian facility will eventually move into the neighborhood, the letter notes.

But like Harutun, other members of the association also voiced support for Jelinek’s plans, as did a few neighbors who aren’t in the association.

The project was resoundingly supported by Tom and Roz Turnbull, the owners of a 2,500-acre parcel right next to Jelinek’s 1,616-acre parcel. The Turnbulls are among a handful of ranchers who have been vehemently opposed to a proposal currently under consideration to limit the amount of development that can occur on their property.

The county is currently considering major changes to zoning and other land-use policies throughout the county. Jelinek’s application was filed several months ago, so the county is obligated to review it under the current rules.

The one neighbor who was missing from the chorus of support was Bill Fales. Fales owns about 600 acres that border Jelinek’s land. He owns the land Jelinek crosses to access some his property, and he has written a letter protesting the application in its current form.

According to a memo prepared for the county commissioners, Fales sold Jelinek a 40-foot easement across his property in 1990. As part of the agreement, Jelinek agreed to limit development on one portion of his land to 20 more homes.

Fales maintains four have been built since that agreement, limiting future development to just 16. Jelinek’s application is for 18 homes on the parcel that is accessed across Fales’ property, but he maintains that a pre-existing 20-foot easement dating back to 1955 should overrule the 1990 agreement with Fales.

In all, Jelinek is proposing 25 homes and a riding arena on 975 acres, with an additional 641-acre parcel designated as a future planning area. Nineteen of the lots would be limited to homes of 5,000 square feet or less and located in a cluster; three lots would allow homes of 15,000 square feet; and the remainder would be permitted to have the county standard of 5,750 square feet.

Jelinek has said he would like to use transferable development rights from the 641-acre planning parcel to complete some of his development goals and sterilize it from future development. But that is not currently allowed by the land-use code and would require a special exemption from the county commissioners.

For the most part, the commissioners appeared open minded about the proposal when it was presented last Wednesday. After the presentation, they raised a number of questions about the proposal.

Jelinek became hostile after the commissioners raised issue with a number of the more creative aspects of Jelinek’s plan. That included the on-site use of transferable development rights and an affordable housing scheme that would save the applicant thousands of dollars.

“I will not voluntarily sterilize this ranch,” Jelinek said, directing most of his anger at County Commissioner Mick Ireland. “It was bought as an investment, and I intend to protect that investment.”

The remarks were directed at Ireland even though problems were raised by each commissioner and the ones Ireland brought up were reiterated by his colleagues.

“I would have preserved the 641 acres as a conservation easement a long time ago, but I would have been a fool because I couldn’t have done anything else.” As Jelinek’s tone became more agitated, his attorney, Lenny Oates, pulled him back into his seat.

The commissioners tabled their deliberations and decision on the proposal at the request of Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who wanted to visit the property before making any suggestions or decisions.

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