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Pitkin County wants out of growth initiative

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County officials say they want out of the state-wide Responsible Growth Initiative if it is passed by Colorado voters in November.

The reason is not that the county doesn’t embrace growth control as a concept. It’s because the county fears interpretation of the legislation will bring extra complexity to land use issues and possibly lead to takings hassles and litigation.

So the county is crafting a question of its own for the November ballot that will give county voters the chance to exempt Pitkin County from the Responsible Growth Initiative for two years.

County commissioners and staff members hope two years will give the courts time to interpret the measure and sort out the exact meaning of provisions the county considers vague. The initiative itself would allow a county to exempt itself for four years at a time.

“The point is the initiative has some goals that Pitkin County supports,” said County Manager Suzanne Konchan. Those include reducing sprawl, defining urban growth boundaries and more, she said.

“What we’re concerned about is it could create additional review steps and takings, and even litigation,” she said.

The county is also crafting a resolution in which the commissioners will state how certain elements of the Responsible Growth Initiative, if it is approved, would be interpreted, should the voters fail to exempt the county.

Cindy Houben, the county’s director of planning, said land use attorneys and planners are concerned about what the initiative would mean to them if it passes, and the resolution is an effort to help ease their worries.

Questions raised include whether a conceptual submission constitutes a complete application for a proposed building project, and whether public housing projects will be affected by the initiative, Houben said.

The Responsible Growth Initiative was put on this November’s state ballot after more than 100,000 Coloradans signed a petition in favor of a vote. The petition was sponsored by numerous groups, including the Colorado Environmental Coalition, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) and the Sierra Club.

If adopted, the initiative would require cities and counties to draw maps indicating where they want future growth to occur and then submit the maps to the voters for approval. The premise of the initia-

tive is that the citizens of Colorado have the right to help shape the destiny of the communities they live in.

The board of directors of the Colorado Chapter of the American Planning Association supports the initiative, but not wholeheartedly. A recommendation in favor of the initiative describes it as “warty,” but notes that neither the Legislature nor the governor can be expected to do anything meaningful toward controlling growth.

Houben, who sits on the board of directors of the APA, said the board voted 6-4 to recommend the measure.

“Our organization is having huge debates as to whether it’s appropriate,” she said.

Houben believes that the initiative is an appropriate solution for Front Range sprawl, but less so for Pitkin County, which already has growth management legislation in place.

Pitkin County’s ballot question, asking whether the county should be exempted from the initiative, will go before the commissioners for a first-reading vote next week. The public hearing and final vote are set for Sept. 13, also the last day to get a ballot question certified for the November election.


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