P&Z rejects new limits on development rights
The county planning commission set the stage yesterday for Pitkin County to adopt sweeping changes to the land-use code that would affect an untold number of landowners throughout the county.In a two-hour discussion and public meeting on the concept of vested rights and time limits on development approvals, the Planning and Zoning Commission members heard a litany of objections from landowners of every type on the plan to extinguish long-held development rights and place strict time limits on future development approvals.In the end, the commissioners voted 4-1 to recommend denial of the proposed amendments. And while the recommendation was met with cheers from many in the room, the planning commission actually passed up the one parliamentary maneuver at its disposal to delay final consideration of the new rules, and put last night’s hearing on the record before county commissioners make a final decision.If P&Z members had tabled their decision, which they discussed, it would have given them time to craft a written response and have a transcript of the hearing prepared. Instead, the proposal moves forward to a second reading and public hearing – and perhaps final adoption – before the county commissioners next Wednesday.The first reading was held on Dec. 1, three days before the planning commission was even told about the proposed changes. One source at the courthouse familiar with the disposition of the county commissioners on the proposal said most of the changes appear likely to pass 3-2, regardless of the planning commission’s recommendation.”Can you talk to the county commissioners about what was said here tonight? They’re your friends, they appointed you,” Lynne Levinson pleaded to the planning commissioners.”Shellie Harper asks me why we don’t trust the county government – this is why, because of legislation like this,” she continued, referring to a county commissioner. “I’ve lived here 30 years and I’ve never been frightened before. Now, I am frightened.”What is frightening for Levinson and every other landowner, land-use consultant and attorney in the room was the scope of the proposed changes to the section on “vesting” in the county code.Vesting is the amount of time a land-use approval is valid. Under the current rules, a developer is exempted from most changes to the county code during the vesting period of three years, which immediately follows the approval.Once the vesting period expires, under the current code, the underlying development approval remains in effect, according to a memo written by Assistant County Attorney Marcella Larsen Chilson. For landowners with a residential development approval, from a single home to a large subdivision, that means they don’t need to go through the entire application process after the vesting period is over. They simply must comply with whatever changes to the land-use code have been made in the meantime. Commercial developments lose all approval rights after three years.The changes under consideration last night would extend the vesting period to five years. But they would also set a time limit on every unused development approval in the county, requiring they either be used by 2005 or be lost for good.”What I see as the fatal question here is, Why would we want to encourage growth?'” said planning commissioner Peter Thomas.Many in the audience said they would be forced to either build or sell to someone who could within the five-year limit.Robert Rubey said his family donated eight acres to the city in exchange for a 1977 approval to build a home on Red Mountain, but he and his sisters still lack the financial resources to begin construction within five years. He said they have already started thinking about selling the land.Other objections – particularly about the lack of flexibility in the new law – came from the Aspen Skiing Co., which said the changes would void its 15-year master plans for capital investments; several people who have bought land with approvals for their children to develop several years down the road; and from a host of attorneys and consultants.
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