Pitkin County puts brakes on rewrite of land-use code
Ranchers appear to have won the day in the contentious and sometimes bitter debate over the future of development in Pitkin County.The county commissioners agreed Tuesday to put the brakes on their effort at a wholesale rewrite of the county land-use code, at least for now.Major changes are still likely for the code, they said, but not in the compressed time line originally envisioned.The decision marks the end of eight months of work on a section-by-section rewrite of the code that was supposed to have been completed last month. The halt comes after five months of contentious meetings that often broke down into circular discussions between county officials, landowners and developers about how to manage growth in rural sections of the county.In fact, rural land use proved to be the rewrite’s undoing. The commissioners opened discussion on a staff proposal to downzone much of the remaining undeveloped ranch lands last December. But instead of completing the work as planned and moving to urban land-use zoning in January, the commissioners became caught up in protests that came from ranchers like Bill Fales and Tom Turnbull.As of this week, they were no closer to adopting new rural zoning than they were at the beginning of the year. So the commissioners adopted a recommendation by their planning and zoning commission to halt the process and start anew.A memo from the P&Z noted that the process that has been under way since last fall is actually trying to accomplish two goals: first, correct the inconsistencies and ambiguities that have been causing trouble for landowners and county officials for years; and second, create a new zoning scheme that defines the future of development in Pitkin County.The P&Z memo suggests that the community development department begin drafting amendments to the existing land-use code that would correct those inconsistencies and ambiguities.”We believe this work can be accomplished relatively quickly, thereby addressing several of the driving factors which initiated the attempt to rewrite the code,” reads the memo, drafted by P&Z member John Howard.It goes on to suggest that the broader philosophical discussions about planning and rural development continue with the aim of eventually adopting new zoning rules and an accompanying map that shows what can be built on a parcel-by-parcel basis throughout the county.”I would not call this a derailment, it’s more of a refinement of the process” said Planning and Zoning Commissioner Steve Whipple.Pitkin County Community Development Director Cindy Houben said she thought the break in discussion was needed.”I think it’s good direction,” she said. “We can refocus and have a good discussion on our land-use goals for the county.”County Commissioner Mick Ireland said he didn’t think the time spent so far was wasted, even though most of it was spent grappling with the question of rural zoning.”We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without going through everything we’ve gone through,” he said.
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