P&Z ready to release rural zoning recommendations
March 18, 2002
The seemingly endless debate about development in rural Pitkin County may finally come to an end next week.The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission has been meeting weekly since late January to fashion a recommendation on rural zoning and appears ready to make one that’s quite different from what’s been talked about so far.According to Ellen Sassano, the county’s long-range planner, the Planning and Zoning Commission is set to come out against the current proposal to limit house sizes as a way to discourage ranchers from carving their land into 35-acre lots for luxury homes. County staff members and at least some of the county commissioners have drafted a proposal to limit house sizes to just 2,000 square feet whenever a rancher or developer carves up large parcels of land into 35-acre lots for residential development. State law guarantees a landowner’s right to subdivide his or her land into 35-acre lots, although control over how the land is developed belongs to county governments.The P&Z is leaning toward a rural zoning scheme that allows 5,750-square-foot homes on 35-acre parcels throughout the entire county. The county code currently allows new homes of up to 5,750 square feet in most cases, and up to 15,000 square feet in some cases.Attorneys and planners in Pitkin County have proposed a 2,000-square-foot limit for homes on newly created 35-acre lots in many rural areas in order to encourage developers to opt for a program that allows one 5,750-square-foot home per 100 acres. In exchange for giving up some of their development rights, developers would be exempted from the growth-management review process, and their approvals would remain valid for 20 years instead of the standard three-year vesting period. The P&Z’s likely recommendation will include incentives such as a 20-year vesting period, but it may also grant owners of large lots much more flexibility than the county is currently proposing.The P&Z’s recommendation conflicts with the staff proposal on some very basic philosophical levels. According to P&Z chairman Peter Martin, however, it will likely contain an incentive program to discourage such development patterns similar in form to the one proposed by the county staff.Martin said the P&Z is unlikely to come up with a written recommendation before Wednesday’s joint meeting with the county commissioners. Instead, the planning commissioners intend to meet again Tuesday afternoon and come to agreement on the house-size issue and a number of other questions and make a verbal recommendation when they meet with the county commissioners.In addition to large homes on 35-acre lots, the P&Z is also mulling over ways to grant transferable development rights to large landowners in greater numbers than the county staff members currently envision.”Basically, we’ve taken the citizen-generated agricultural preservation plan and worked backward,” said Martin.Pitkin County is in the midst of rewriting its land-use code, the set of rules and regulations that governs how landowners can develop their property. The rewrite has been under way in one form or another since the summer of 1999. It has caused several flare-ups over the last few years, including the firestorm of protest that came in January 2000 when the county commissioners enacted a six-month moratorium on new development.The most recent flare-up occurred after county attorneys and planners drafted a proposal that is meant to preserve large rural tracts from being carved into 35-acre mini-estates and developed with large homes. The county’s last ranching families have cried foul, wondering why they should have to continue to provide open space for the area’s residents.The rural-area zoning has been the subject of several joint meetings of the county commissioners and the P&Z since last December with little real amendment or progress toward adoption. In January, the P&Z decided it needed to meet to deliberate the questions without the county commissioners in the room. Under state law, the county commissioners cannot vote on proposed amendments to the land-use code until the P&Z has made a recommendation. The law doesn’t require the county commissioners to follow the P&Z’s recommendation, however.