Mutiny on the County slams brakes on downzone debate
February 13, 2002
A mutiny by the Pitkin County planning commission Tuesday night slammed the brakes on the county commissioners’ plan to give initial approval to a downzoning of ranch and rural lands.After getting thrashed for two hours in a public hearing by ranchers and representatives of the real-estate industry, the commissioners were confronted by their own advisory board about their process.”The process of the last several months has borne no resemblance to the process required by Colorado law,” said a statement penned and read by P&Z chairman Peter Martin.The statement claimed that the planning commission hasn’t had much of a voice in consideration of land-use code amendments that would decrease the density on rural lands and decrease the size of houses that could be built.”Our role has been minimized to such an extent that we have no more input or knowledge than members of the general public,” the statement claimed. Martin said the general tone of the statement was approved by the planning commission members in an earlier straw poll.”This, in our view, violates the purpose and spirit of the Sunshine and Open Meetings laws,” the statement continued. “The intent of the law is that citizens shall be given information about and participate in legislative decision-making. What we are seeing – or more accurately, not seeing – might be diagnosed as photophobia – fear of light.”The statement singled out commissioner Mick Ireland for meeting with the planning staff and attorney’s office to work on the land-use code amendments.The reading of the statement was the equivalent of throwing gasoline on a fire. The majority of a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people angrily spoke out against what they felt are punitive actions against longtime locals who haven’t already sold out.”It’s difficult to think about ranching when you’ve got to turn around every five minutes to go to a meeting,” said Roz Turnbull, who ranches in the Carbondale area with her husband, Tom.Just as Aspen is watching its downtown core struggle due to over-regulation, rural lands are at risk of being “manipulated to death” by Pitkin County government, she said.Some of the most stinging criticism came from Bill Fales, a rancher and member of Pitkin County’s Open Space and Trails board of directors. Many of the land-use code changes were ill-conceived and would only serve to make it more difficult for ranchers to survive, Fales predicted.As an example, he noted that the county originally wasn’t going to allow agricultural buildings to be taller than 15 feet. That has been amended to 20 feet. But Fales said that a hay shed needs to be 26 feet high for practical use.Several audience members, most notably land-use attorney Gideon Kaufman, urged the county commissioners to slow their review of the land-use code amendments, open the process more fully to the people affected and come up with something “fair.”It was in that charged atmosphere that Martin lobbed the verbal grenade.Ireland angrily responded that he hadn’t violated the Sunshine Law by meeting with the county staff. The two engaged in a heated exchange over the allegations and their interpretation before Martin eventually apologized for suggesting Ireland did anything illegal.Ireland thanked Martin and said that was the first time in eight years that anyone had apologized for making “that type” of erroneous allegation.The unsympathetic crowd responded with an “awwww” followed by laughter.Ireland shot back that audience members wouldn’t like it if they were subjected, as he was, to cartoons to the editor showing him with a noose around his neck. That cartoon appeared during one of two failed recall efforts that Ireland has faced.Rancher Francesca Fender told Ireland he was subjecting himself to the criticism as a public official. If Ireland doesn’t like it, he shouldn’t run for county commissioner, she said.Ireland’s term expires at the end of this year. He hasn’t announced if he will seek re-election in November.When the sparring simmered down, planning commission members and the county commissioners determined that the land-use code amendments need a more thorough review.The planning commission will take up further debate Feb. 19. The commissioners scheduled their own meeting on Feb. 21.