New growth-management rules up for vote tonight
Tonight’s the big night. The package of growth-management legislation that has been under discussion for nearly six months is expected to get either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down tonight.The Pitkin County commissioners will vote on the package of regulations in a special meeting at 5 p.m. in the Aspen City Council chambers.The legislation is the result of six months of work by county staff and has been the subject of countless public meetings. A six-month moratorium on the construction of large houses, enacted by the county to prevent a glut of applications before introduction of the legislation, is scheduled to end early next month.The legislation will require all new houses larger than 5,750 square feet to compete for a limited annual square-footage quota unless the plan qualifies for any of several exemptions. The legislation has been criticized loudly by the development and real-estate community.The county’s planning and zoning board voted 4-0 last Tuesday to recommend that the legislation be rejected, citing flaws they said could easily be corrected.Two county commissioners, Mick Ireland and Dorothea Farris, told The Aspen Times on Friday they feel the legislation is ready to go on the books, and that it can be tweaked later if necessary.Ireland said he thinks the package of new ordinances, despite a few shortcomings, is ready to become law.”The concerns the P&Z had are things that can be straightened out pretty easily,” said Ireland. One of those concerns is the limited number of available transferable-development rights, or TDRs, which developers can buy to gain the right to build a bigger house.”For the long term, I think TDRs need to be added to the market,” Ireland said. But the 80 TDRs existing now, which would supply 200,000 square feet of additional development, is enough for the time being, he said. The relative scarcity drives the price up to some degree, Ireland noted.”The price (of TDRs) is not a problem,” Ireland said. “The idea isn’t to make 15,000-square-foot houses more affordable.”Ireland defended the legislation against claims that it is cumbersome, saying it’s actually simpler than previous growth-management regulations. He said the package aims to create incentives to promote sound development practices.The new legislation encourages development in existing subdivisions, whereas the previous legislation made it advantageous for a developer to buy a ranch and carve it up, Ireland said. This will encourage creation of large houses in places like Starwood, where they are appropriate, he said.”We have some of the priciest and most well-known subdivisions in the world. Why not put large homes there?” Ireland said. “This will slow growth by wiping out subdivisions in remote areas.”Ireland pointed out that the biggest reward in the new Growth Management Quota System is for people to buy existing housing units and deed-restrict them themselves, to make them affordable housing.Commissioner Dorothea Farris, too, praised the incentive given in the new legislation for converting existing units to affordable housing. Because a recent state court case indicates it may be illegal to restrict rents, that incentive is more important than ever, she said.”If you provide housing for a working local, we’ll look at that, and you’ll score higher in the growth-management system,” Farris said.”What we’ve tried to do is get the scoring to provide what the community wants,” she said. A higher score allows a project to compete favorably for a limited amount of construction allowed annually.Farris said the legislation is based on what members of the community have said they want out of government. But the regulations have to be applied evenly.”We have to agree that we can live together under the regulations that result,” Farris said.Farris recited a partial list of the things citizens have said they want, the goals that inspired the new growth-management legislation: Build housing close to developed areas; protect the rural atmosphere; build houses in scale with neighborhoods; prevent abuse of resources; promote alternative energy sources; promote a community with people who live there; preserve open space and agricultural land and the agricultural lifestyle.”I think this code does address a lot of the things we need,” Farris said. But she said some people who want the same things are complaining about how the regulations will apply to them, personally.”Everybody wants to see the night sky,” Farris said. “But as soon as you tell the one person they can’t have runway lights on their property, the guy says, `But I have a unique situation that requires it.'””We have to stop being hypocritical,” she said.Ireland said he is skipping the first day of his vacation to participate in enacting the legislation.”Usually, I take one week vacation a year, but I’m not going to miss this vote,” Ireland said. His plans to participate in the weeklong Ride the Rockies bike tour this week are merely postponed, not canceled, though. He will try to join the Ride the Rockies entourage in Leadville.
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Pitkin County public health officials are working toward opening a free, drive-through COVID -19 testing site in Aspen that will not require a doctor’s prescription.