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Of poets and politicians

Bill Tuite, renowned commissioner for avoiding political quicksands, advised me years ago to not respond to all that is written or said. But after seeing the movie “Chicago,” I am revising his advice. Newspapers and rumor do create “truth” out of untruth.

An Aspen Times editorial and a couple members of the Snowmass Creek Caucus have taken the county commissioners to task over lack of enforcement and a whittling away of the land use code. Though I believe their accusations are false, my view is biased.

So I ask you to judge. What would you do if you were a county commissioner?

A landowner with an abandoned pasture that had gone to thistle and leafy spurge re-landscaped, cutting down a small hill and the weeds, and replanted and re-contoured to create wildlife habitat. He started this work without a permit or land use amendment because the engineering/surveying firm he had hired told him a permit was not needed due to agriculture exemptions for this type of work.

A landowner, while digging his well, found the water to be heavily contaminated with methane and sulfur. Though the pollutants could be removed, the process would require going on the grid rather than using solar energy as he had planned.

The owner decided to provide household water by using a spring on his property. He applied for all the proper permits and completed the work “code” perfect. Problem was, he jumped the gun and began work before the county permit was issued.

In reaction to the proliferation of houses being built on mining claims, the commissioners in 1995 created a TDR program that allowed owners to sell development rights rather than building. To create a market for TDRs, the code was amended to allow extra square footage or exemption from growth management if TDRs were used.

During the moratorium of 2001, the old method of carrying forward square footage that wasn’t allocated in competition was discontinued and the amount of square footage available was decreased.

A landowner went through growth management to subdivide his property into five large lots. He received very high marks and won development rights, but there wasn’t enough square footage in the annual allocation to build all five houses.

A condition of subdivision approval required he apply for TDRs. But the county attorney ruled that an applicant must apply to use TDRs before he goes through GMQS and the request technically violated the code.

The Daily News carried a guest commentary by Matthew Miller titled, “A poet’s lesson for politicians.” He quotes poet Wislawa Szymborska: “substitute the words ‘policymaker’ for ‘poet’ and the political lesson is clear. In solving human problems … unmerited certainty is the road to ruin. Skepticism of ‘answers’ and ideology is essential …”

This commissioner believes the Pitkin County land use code is this community’s ongoing effort to describe and implement our ideology as it relates to land use. The code is neither written in stone nor takes the structure of a hammer. I hope we continue to have the wisdom to be poets when enforcing policy and code.

Shellie Roy

Pitkin County commissioner


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