Pitco mulls W/J `takings’ today | AspenTimes.com

Pitco mulls W/J `takings’ today

Local developer John Musick’s battle with Pitkin County resumes this afternoon, when commissioners convene a hearing to determine whether the county stripped the W/J Ranch of its value when it downzoned the property last March.

Musick has been in a war of will and words with county commissioners since last October, when his application to build 778 units at the ranch near Woody Creek was denied.

In February, the commissioners met behind closed doors to craft an ordinance banning Musick from submitting any new development applications while county planners drafted an ordinance downzoning W/J from “affordable housing” to RS-20. The board downzoned the property in March.

The affordable housing zone designation allowed Musick to potentially develop hundreds of units that would have been restricted in price and use by the Aspen-Pitkin County affordable housing guidelines. The RS-20 zoning allows him to build five free-market homes.

Musick contends that the new zoning strips his property of nearly all its financial value. At a preliminary hearing before the commissioners in April, Musick’s attorney pointed out that the property is not ideal for free-market development because it is beneath power lines and adjacent to existing affordable housing.

Musick contends that the county’s actions amount to a “takings” – a legal term used to describe situations in which government action strips value from private property.

The county counters that Musick did not act in time to qualify for a takings hearing after the denial of his development application last fall, but agrees that his challenge of the downzoning was made in a timely fashion.

County commissioners will make the first ruling on whether or not their actions constituted a takings. If Musick is dissatisfied with their ruling, he can make his arguments in the state courts.

The hearing is scheduled to begin today at 3 p.m. in the commissioners’ chambers.

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