New land-use code goes into effect
Pitkin County approved a new land-use code Wednesday night, making sweeping changes for the first time in more than a decade. The county has had a restrictive land-use code since the mid-1970s, and this latest incarnation continues the trend of tightening development regulations with the goal of preserving the rural quality of Pitkin County. “[The land-use code] is cutting-edge, it is precedent-setting,” Commissioner Michael Owsley said. “We should be proud of it.”The new countywide code limits houses to 15,000 square feet, reduces the value of a transferable development right to 2,500 square feet, limits houses in urban areas to 5,750 square feet, increases the number of county roads with scenic review restrictions and increases stream setbacks for building from 20 feet to 50 feet.Pitkin County also deleted two important building exemptions from the code. There is no longer a 1,000-square-foot exemption beyond the 5,750-square-foot limit for a house, or an exemption for a 4,000-square-foot basement and 750-square-foot garage. Both deleted exemptions are expected to increase demand for transferable development rights significantly. Though disagreements remained Wednesday, commissioners expressed pleasure that they were finally approving a new code, and all of them said they felt it helped further their goals. The revision of the code was a long and arduous process that included extensive public comment at five public readings. The Aspen Times published two versions of the full land-use code, and revisions to the code that was passed Wednesday have already begun. “Tomorrow we will start the rewrite of the next code,” Commissioner Mick Ireland said, only half-jokingly. Commissioners tabled two major issues that garnered public comment at the fifth and final reading of the code. First, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s plans to enlarge its campus at Windstar, in Old Snowmass, were put off for a more complete discussion later. The Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus brought forth the second issue, the creation of a new zoning district called conservation development/planned unit development. Caucus members Tim McFlynn and John McBride said the new zoning district would mean more large houses in their area.”You can’t unring a bell,” McFlynn said, urging commissioners to hold off on approving the new district. “The safer course, given where you’re standing, is to not adopt it yet.” All the commissioners, other than Jack Hatfield, felt otherwise and approved the zoning district. However, they set a meeting to discuss a possible revision to the code. Throughout the process, commissioners have had to contend with the pressure to build more homes, especially large homes. But with the transferable development rights program, building mega-homes helps preserve other land. “People are right, there are impacts of large homes in a rural community,” said Cindy Houben, director of community development. “But there is a balance.”Indeed, many earlier discussions saw a give-and-take between the county and people decrying the decision to ban houses larger than 15,000 square feet. Many questioned the fairness of that decision and others that cut back on individual property rights. This code, however, likely will increase home values just as past codes with similarly restrictive provisions have made land values skyrocket in the area. There was some discussion Wednesday about whether the land-use code could apply retroactively. Some expressed concern that people were slipping under the wire to develop in places they will not be able to with the passage of the code.But the numbers didn’t back up that suspicion, and commissioners agreed the new rules would go into effect immediately.Commissioners and members of the Pitkin County staff who have worked on this for past years were relieved that the code finally passed. Many of them said, however, that their work is hardly done.”There’s more to do,” Houben said. “Tons.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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