Multiple issues lingering around Woody Creek driveway proposal |

Multiple issues lingering around Woody Creek driveway proposal

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

The locals don’t like or want it, the county has denied its building more than once, there might be a pair of small children buried somewhere near the proposed project site, there’s a natural spring that could be affected near the project, and any work done will scar the Woody Creek landscape permanently.

Who would’ve thought a massive driveway proposed to access a 62-acre residential property off Woody Creek Road could cause such a ruckus?

The property in question, named Sun Mesa, is owned by the Stranahan family and has been a point of contention in Woody Creek for several years.

In 2011, Pitkin County denied permission for a single-family residence and construction of a driveway at Sun Mesa because the proposed driveway crosses slopes exceeding 45 degrees, which the land-use code prohibits development on. The applicant again requested a site-plan review in 2013 for a driveway and was denied again.

This year, the applicant submitted a request for use of a transferable development right to build a residence and driveway in the previously approved area for a home, but again the driveway plan was denied.

The county later discovered that denying access to the owners constitutes an illegal “taking” of property rights.

“A taking can occur when the government, through its regulation, does not allow someone to use their property in a way that’s reasonable considering how they came to their ownership of the property,” said County Attorney John Ely. “In other words, their reasonable expectation of the property. Typically, the lowest common denominator of development is a house.”

In August, the county commissioners requested that county staff bring back driveway alternatives for their consideration. Now the county has two choices: Buy the property, or remediate the taking by allowing development of the driveway to make the property accessible.

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 new driveway. At a Board of County Commissioners meeting Wednesday, Stranahan family representative Jim Curtis brought forward six driveway options for the commissioners to consider.

Each driveway option was reviewed, but only one option seemed acceptable to the commissioners. Some options had slope issues and didn’t have access for emergency vehicles. The option that was accepted had the fewest issues but would still require some retaining walls and would have to be built within known wildlife corridors.

Even as the accepted driveway option was being decided upon, other factors came to light at the meeting. Woody Creek resident Tony Vagneur told the board that his family had buried two small children somewhere in the proposed driveway site.

“The easternmost proposal for a driveway up to Sun Mesa has the absolute potential to disturb a centuries-old cemetery,” Vagneur said. “Sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s, an infant boy and a girl were buried at or in the draw that is proposed for a driveway leading to Sun Mesa. These small children were brother and sister to my grandfather, Jeremie Vagneur, pioneer and early settler of Woody Creek. For over 125 years, these graves have remained on what has been sacred ground. To disturb them now would be to dismiss the rich heritage of those who have come before and would be a disappointing salute to accommodation of growth without a conscience.”

Vagneur could not positively identify where the graves were, but he said he was certain they existed.

Margaret Reckling, who lives across the street from the proposed entrance to the driveway, said she has water rights to an underground spring that runs under the driveway site. She also expressed concern for the wildlife in that area and the 100-year-old cottonwood trees that would likely be cut down for the driveway.

It was also discovered that there’s a 1-acre lot east of the Sun Mesa property that no one at the meeting knew who owned. Because the owner of that property could potentially argue for another driveway access, the commissioners decided more research needed to be done before a final decision could be made on the driveway project.

The board agreed to reconsider the takings request Jan. 14 to give county staff time to go over the issues brought forward Wednesday.

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