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Pitco bans dense housing in county’s outlying areas

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Pitkin County closed the door Wednesday on dense housing projects outside urban areas over the objections of Commissioner Shellie Roy, who urged her colleagues to keep open the option for enclaves of worker housing on rural parcels.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to amend the county’s land-use code to prevent future rezonings for dense developments outside of the urban growth boundaries that have been established around Aspen and Basalt.

The move has been in the works for about a year, but commissioners held off on a final decision this week until the Aspen City Council made its decision Tuesday on the future of the Burlingame Ranch affordable housing project. The council agreed to move forward with the development, which is within the boundary.



Had the city abandoned the plan, Commissioner Patti Clapper hinted she might have had to rethink a ban on big housing projects in rural areas.

But it was Roy who had a change of heart after Tuesday’s public hearing on Burlingame. A number of citizens spoke up about the need to preserve the community by providing places where local workers can afford to live.




The county has a responsibility to preserve its rural lands, but it also has a role to play in maintaining the community, she argued. There are probably places outside the urban growth boundaries where worker housing developments are appropriate and it’s the county’s duty to identify them, Roy said.

“I think we are shirking a very hard job by adopting this,” she said. “I just think we’re closing doors here. I think what we’ll see in 10 years is a lot of opportunities were lost.”

Among the parcels affected by the decision is Aspen Mass, purchased jointly by the city and county for affordable housing. Elected officials have since agreed, however, that the property ” located near the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road ” is better suited for special events parking.

Roy also questioned whether there are actually any parcels of unincorporated Pitkin County within the urban growth boundaries where the zoning districts that allow dense housing could actually be applied.

“Are we splitting hairs over something that can’t be applied anywhere?” she asked.

There are some large parcels within the Basalt boundary, commissioners concluded, but only smaller ones within the Aspen boundary.

“It is a tight boundary. There aren’t a lot of wide-open spaces in it,” Commissioner Mick Ireland said. “But, there aren’t a lot of places outside of it where you’d want to put a lot of density.

“I think we should zone like we mean it.”

By prohibiting zoning for high-density housing outside the urban areas, the county prevents the potential for another application for an inappropriate development, Ireland said. He offered the defeated plan for 778 affordable units at W/J Ranch on McLain Flats as an example.

“I don’t want to be in the position we were in with W/J,” he said. “The way to prevent that is taking control and making them do a rezoning if somebody wants to do something somewhere.”

Actually, an applicant would now need to convince commissioners to amend the land-use code, in addition to approving a rezoning, in order to build that kind of project outside the urban boundaries.

“I think we have always felt development should occur first where services are available and the density ought to be,” said Commissioner Dorothea Farris.

“This is living within the goal of preserving rural areas while managing growth within urban areas,” added Commissioner Jack Hatfield. “I do not want us to look like Eagle County. I puke every time I drive down the road.”

Yesterday’s action eliminates the potential use of the county’s AH-3 zone district outside the urban boundaries. It is typically used for projects that mix affordable and free-market housing. Pitkin Iron, with four free-market homes and 15 deed-restricted units; and West Ranch, with one free-market residence and 10 affordable units, were both built under the AH-3 zoning.

The AH district, which allows much denser development and was proposed for use at W/J, is also no longer applicable outside the urban boundaries.

Aspen’s urban growth boundary stretches from roughly the downvalley end of the airport to the Mountain Valley subdivision east of town.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is Janet@aspentimes.com]


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