New rules for development | AspenTimes.com

New rules for development

Allyn HarveyAspen Times Staff Writer

A narrow majority of the county commission board took a step last week to unravel recent growth management initiatives in Pitkin County.Jack Hatfield, Patti Clapper and Shellie Roy voted on Nov. 20 to allow a ranch along Capitol Creek to get out from under the growth management process by purchasing transferable development rights.In doing so, they ignored the rigorous objections of two colleagues, and a warning from the county attorney that the exemption could eventually increase the overall pace of residential construction in rural areas.”I feel that we abdicated a lot of what we stand for,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris, who was on the losing side of the 3-2 vote.The circumstance that commissioners were debating involved a 473-acre property known as the Wieben Ranch and its owners’ ability to build seven large homes on it whenever they choose.After dividing the ranch into seven lots, the owners, Wieben Ranch LLC, applied for development rights through the county’s growth management quota system. And therein lies the problem, at least from the developer’s point of view.The growth management quota system sets limits on the amount of residential construction that can be approved in a neighborhood in any given year. In the Capitol Creek/Snowmass Creek neighborhood, the limit is 25,000 square feet of new residential floor space per year.The system is designed to do a number of things. It slows the overall pace of construction, at least theoretically, by limiting the amount that’s approved each year.It also forces developers to make concessions, such as protecting large tracts from future development or employing green-building standards, in order to score well against other development applications that are competing for the same limited development rights. And, until last week, it allowed only the best proposals to be developed.Applications are judged and scored by the county planning and zoning commission and forwarded on to the county commissioners for final approval.The one way around the growth management system is transferable development rights. Instead of growth management, the Wieben developers could have purchased transferable development rights from owners of backcountry lots.Transferable development rights (TDRs) were originally created as an incentive for owners of lots in rural and remote zoned areas to sterilize their property from future development. The process transfers the development rights to property that is closer to roads and utilities.TDRs can be used to purchase additional square footage or to create development rights where none currently exist. They are sold like real estate and cost about $175,000 right now, down from a high of approximately $300,000 at the end of 2000.In June 2000, when the land-use code last underwent a major rewrite, the commissioners agreed that developers had to choose one route or the other ? growth management competition or transferable development rights.Applicants who did not receive all of what they wanted through the growth management system were not allowed to make up the difference by purchasing transferable development rights. The only way to make up the difference was to compete in the next round of growth management scoring.That changed on Wednesday. Now developers can submit an application for development to the growth management process, and then purchase transferable development rights to make up any shortages.The Wieben Ranch competed twice and ended up with 31,500 square feet of development. That left the developer 17,500 square feet short of the total desired for the property, which, once built out, will have five 7,500-square-foot houses and two 5,750-square-foot houses.So, Wieben representative Mitch Haas asked the commissioners to change the rules yesterday so that developers who receive development rights through the growth management process can expand them with the purchase of transferable development rights.”We could have asked for approval as a transferable development right receiver site under special review at the outset of our application process,” Haas noted. “Now you won’t let us in” to that process.The county P&Z and the community development department both recommended that the commissioners approve the change.”We feel these parcels have gone through a rigorous review process,” said Brian McNellis, the county planner on the Wieben application.Both McNellis and Lance Clarke, the county’s deputy director of community development, said the community development department was behind the change because it would not cause any major disruptions to the growth management system.”The number of exemptions allowed by the land-use code were one of the problems when the county commissioners set limits in this particular circumstance,” County Attorney John Ely said last Wednesday.Ely said the uses for transferable development rights that were adopted in 2000 were well thought out, and he recommended against amending the code to accommodate the developers of the Wieben Ranch.”The effect of this amendment will be to allow properties that score poorly in growth management competition for new development requests to avoid their problem with the use of transferable development rights,” Ely wrote in a memo to the commissioners.The lots that would be affected by the Wieben amendment are the type created under a state law that allows landowners to divide large parcels into 35-acre lots.Ely pointed out that such lots have no real approved use by the county, but the Wieben amendment would grant approvals without the scrutiny of growth management competition or review by the county commissioners.Commissioner Mick Ireland predicted that the amendment would allow a developer to go through the growth management competition simply to gain legitimacy, then purchase transferable development rights to build whatever he wants.”We have the growth management quota system to get more public benefit out of development,” Ireland said.He added that the Wieben developers could amend their application, perhaps with public access to the stream or in some other way, and go through the growth management competition again.Clapper said she didn’t see the point in barring applicants from buying transferable development rights when they could simply go through the growth management competition over and over until they had all the necessary square footage for their development.”This is not a big deal,” said Hatfield, who was not a member of the 2000 board of county commissioners that created the growth management rules. “Let’s hope I don’t get proven wrong.”[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com]

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