Next round in talks over new zoning is Tuesday |

Next round in talks over new zoning is Tuesday

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Elected officials and area ranchers will have a lot more to think about tomorrow afternoon, when they meet to again debate land use and development in rural Pitkin County.

The county planning staff has come up with some major changes to the proposed “Resource Conservation” zone, which has angered a half dozen or so families with large property holdings in outlying areas. Those changes include the right to build larger homes for ranchers who choose to divide their land into 35-acre ranchettes. Also included are transferable development rights, which currently sell for more than $200,000, for ranchers who cooperate with the county’s effort to head off such development.

The staff is also recommending changes that would benefit people with small lots in rural areas.

The staff came up with its list of alternatives after three contentious meetings on the resource conservation zone district. The new zone is meant to serve as a transitional zone between the mostly undeveloped backcountry and subdivisions for large homes like the Lazy-O-Ranch in Old Snowmass.

It remains to be seen whether the staff’s latest recommendations will change anyone’s mind about the upcoming changes to the land-use code, however, because two facts remain: Most ranchers have said they want all the development rights afforded them by state law. And the county has made it clear that it still intends to sharply curtail those rights.

The discussion is scheduled to resume Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Pitkin County Health and Human Services building next to Aspen Valley Hospital. County Commissioner Mick Ireland has said he expects the meeting to end with a vote on the resource conservation zone by the commissioners. The so-called first reading sets the proposal up for final adoption on second reading, which would occur in the spring.

As initially proposed, the resource conservation zone would have discouraged the 35-acre subdivision of ranches by limiting development on such lots – including garages, basements, sheds and living space – to just 2,000 square feet. State law says that a landowner is allowed to divide his or her property into 35-acre lots without having to get permission from county governments.

The house-size restriction in the proposed zoning is meant to encourage ranchers to opt into a program that allows larger homes. In exchange for the right to build as much as 5,750 square feet on each lot, the rancher or developer who owns the land would have to agree to a limit of one home for each 100 acres. The county’s opt-in proposal also exempted the developer from the growth-management process and allowed the developer to sell one transferable development right from each 100-acre lot.

The county planning staff is now recommending that ranchers who do not opt in be allowed to develop homes as large as 3,000 square feet, according to a staff memo released at the end of last week.

“It seems compatible with what’s going on in those areas today,” said Cindy Houben, county planning director. “But does that larger size prevent 35-acre subdivisions? That’s one of the questions the board [of county commissioners] is going to have to answer.”

The planning staff is also recommending that the opt-in proposal be expanded to include every undeveloped parcel with at least 70 acres, as opposed to the 200-acre minimum contained in the original proposal. The zoning still requires the landowner to cluster development on a maximum of 15 percent of the land.

The new proposal includes a sliding scale of growth management-exempt development rights that grow with the lot size. The owner of an 80-acre lot who opts in, for instance, would be granted an exemption for a 3,500-square-foot house and 2,500 square feet of agriculture buildings (if appropriate). The owner of a 160-acre lot who enters the preservation scheme would be allowed one 4,500-square-foot house or two 3,000-square-foot houses, along with the 2,500 square feet of agricultural buildings.

Although landowners who opt in are giving up about a third of their potential development rights, the growth-management exemption is expected to be a big incentive. That’s because the staff is proposing changes to the growth-management system that will make it very difficult to secure development approvals in rural areas.

The staff is also recommending that large parcels, 200 acres and up, be granted one transferable development right for every 70 acres of property, up from one per 100 acres under the original proposal. The staff is still recommending a ban on the use of TDRs in the resource conservation zone, however.

The staff memo on the recommendations, which is available online at, comes out against an earlier proposal to sharply curtail a homeowner’s right to replace existing structures. Under the original wording, the new zoning would have forced a homeowner who loses his house to a fire in the resource conservation zone to limit the replacement home to 2,000 square feet, no matter how large the original structure had been. The new proposal allows homeowners to keep what they already have, even if it exceeds the size limit for the zone.

The memo also discusses the pros and cons of allowing 15,000-square-foot homes on lots of 500 acres and up along with other proposals made by ranchers and development consultants.


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