Pitkin County to see bigger, better-looking barns? | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County to see bigger, better-looking barns?

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Courtesy Joanna Schaffner/Pitkin County

ASPEN – Pitkin County may relax its rules on barn size for small, rural properties, but only if the structures house horses, hay and the like. “Party barns” with hot tubs aren’t the intent.

County commissioners grappled Tuesday with suggestions that the county allow smaller rural properties more square footage to devote to agricultural uses – an idea initially pushed by the Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus, which concluded the current regulations run counter to the county’s goal of preserving rural character.

In addition, current height limitations on barns are resulting in “dark, squat, unappealing structures,” according to the caucus. Some of the county’s classic old barns wouldn’t be permitted under the current code, said Cindy Houben, the county’s head planner.

The county planning staff is working on revisions to the amount of square footage that would be allowed for barns, based on property acreage, plus separate rules for greenhouses – something that is grouped in with barns in the current land-use code.

“We’ve had a lot of people talking to us about greenhouses in the last year and a half,” said Suzanne Wolff, senior planner for the county.

For both barns and greenhouses, some or all of the square footage allocated to the structure may be allowed, in addition to the floor area allowed for the house. That has sometimes resulted in the conversion of barns to other uses by property owners interested in gaining more residential space on a property where the house may have already hit the maximum size allowed by the county.

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“I think we really need to take a hard look at the conversion after the fact,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards, calling for a well-defined response when a barn becomes a party room or living quarters.

Houben pressed for ideas on what the county should do in such cases.

“I doubt very seriously we would be saying ‘tear it down,'” she said.

The Snowmass/Capitol Creek Caucus isn’t interested in fostering illegal residential structures, said representative Jan Martin. Rather, the caucus’ concern is that legitimate agricultural buildings violate the county’s code. One property owner had nine illegal structures – all of them horse shelters that were a necessary part of his operation, she said.

Commissioners weren’t necessarily opposed to granting more floor area for barns, but concluded the county wouldn’t be preserving agricultural use so much as an agricultural feel.

“Is there anybody who actually raises a food product?” asked Commissioner Michael Owsley.

“Well, we’re going to be seeing medical marijuana,” Houben responded.

“We are no longer a functionally agricultural county,” concluded Mirte Mallory, a member of the county’s Planning and Zoning Commission. It’s more about preserving elements of the county’s rural character that are aesthetically pleasing than it is about agriculture, she said.

“What we’re really trying to do is protect our rural character,” agreed Commissioner George Newman.

The caucus is seeking an increase in what’s allowed on smaller parcels, proposing 1,760 square feet of barn space for properties of 20 to 29 acres and up to 4,060 square feet on parcels of 30 to 70 acres. For larger parcels, the county’s existing allowance of 58 square feet of barn space per acre is acceptable, the caucus agreed.

An increase in height allowances, which the caucus has also proposed, would result in more attractive and functional barns, they said.

The caucus has also suggested size and design guidelines for hay storage structures, utility buildings and horse shelters. Design requirements could result in the buildings being used for their intended purpose, Martin said.

janet@aspentimes.com