Pitkin County grants controversial TDRs | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County grants controversial TDRs

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Following a charged debate Wednesday, Pitkin County commissioners voted 3-2 to grant transferable development rights to land bordering Connie Harvey’s ranch near Old Snowmass.

Harvey, who in 2006 preserved more than 1,435 acres in a conservation easement, said she thought using the rights, or TDRs, to preserve two two-acre parcels in the Shield-O subdivision adjacent to her ranch was a slam dunk.

The land is located on steep slopes, faces potential avalanche, mudslide and wildfire danger, and any new buildings or a road cut would be a visual blight, she said.

Harvey estimated that combined, the two-acre parcel would list for more than $1.4 million, and two TDRs would earn Harvey just $600,000.

County staff said the land had development potential, however, and recommended denial.

The TDR program is designed to move development from rural backcountry to more dense areas, and it enables developers to build larger homes through TDR purchases, county officials said.

Though county staff recommended rejecting Harvey, county commissioners have the discretion to grant a TDR if a site is “severely constrained.”

But facing a glut of TDR applications, Pitkin County commissioners are careful with handing out TDRs, and the Harvey request raised a red flag.

At Wednesday’s meeting, neighbors and members of the Snowmass Capital Creek Caucus area spoke out in their support of preserving the land by using TDRs.

Harvey first requested the two TDRs in October 2006. Commissioners recommended she approach Aspen Valley Land Trust or Pitkin County Open Space and Trails to find a better way to preserve the land, but both agencies turned her down, she said.

Commissioners made a site visit to the Harvey ranch in December.

“The only hope of saving beautiful land is by protecting it with legal means,” Harvey said. “I just think here’s a critical, wonderful opportunity to make such a difference. It’s not going to cost the taxpayers. We’re giving up half the market value. We’re willing to do that.”

Faced with a large estate tax liability, Harvey said she simply wanted to preserve the land and asked the board Wednesday to think long-term.

“My life expectancy isn’t that long anymore,” Harvey said. And without protecting the land, Harvey said someone could come along and build homes above the preserved ranch land.

In the end, commissioners were split.

Patti Clapper and Michael Owsley both said that while preserving the land was important, the TDR process was not the right way to do it.

Clapper suggested folding the parcels into the larger Harvey conservation easement.

“I’m really at a loss. I want to support the values and not having development,” Owsley said, but added the specifications for TDRs just didn’t fit.

“There has to be another way of doing this,” Owsley said. “And TDRs aren’t the way to do it.”

Owsley pointed out the taxes on the parcels recently were lowered from about $5,000 to just over $1,000 and said the tax burden was small.

Commissioner Dorothea Farris outlined her reasons for granting the TDRs, including the importance of a buffer to adjacent preserved land, the poor quality of soil, the steep slopes and potential landslide and avalanche hazard, fire danger, loss of wildlife and issues of access.

Farris stressed the question was not about Harvey’s stellar record of preserving ranch land, but about what was best for the two parcels in question.

Commissioner Rachel Richards warned that handing out TDRs is not free and costs the area increased density, mostly in neighborhoods bordering the city of Aspen.

“That’s why we do have to be very cautious about how we hand them out and when,” Richards said. “They’re described as a tool, but we have the obligation of keeping that tool sharp.”

Richards said she was disappointed that the two parcels were not included in the original conservation easement and that county open space officials couldn’t find a solution to protect the land.

“I think that it’s important to protect the investment that’s already been made in these lands,” Richards said.

Commissioner Jack Hatfield said though it was a tough decision and noted the county board is often split about handing out TDRs, he would support it.

Farris, Hatfield and Richards voted to grant the TDRs. Owsley and Clapper opposed the move.


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