Rezone Smuggler – carefully
Smuggler Mountain is many things to Aspen; it’s a gateway to the national forest, it’s a lunchtime hike, it’s one of the last undeveloped hillsides around town. It’s also a place where an increasing number of people either live, own property, or want to live.It may be one of Aspen’s favorite playgrounds, but Smuggler is more than that, and should be treated as such.Pitkin County is considering a rezoning of the mountain that will redefine the way Smuggler is used, or not used. Today, county commissioners will consider for the second time a downzoning of Smuggler that, if passed, would protect the mountain from overdevelopment by severely restricting the development rights of a handful of property owners.This is a thorny and emotional issue. No matter what the commissioners do, somebody will be unhappy.Here at The Aspen Times, we’ve wrestled with this issue and found ourselves torn. We don’t want to see the Smuggler road paved to serve a series of unoccupied trophy homes, but we’re also leery of government pushing people around.We believe some kind of “transitional zoning” is appropriate for Smuggler Mountain. It is, after all, where Aspen abuts and escapes to the mountains. It’s valid to limit home sizes on Smuggler to something between what’s allowed in town and what’s allowed in the county’s rural and remote zone, which begins farther up the hill.But the proposal now on the commissioners’ table seems flawed. The Smuggler Mine, at the base of the mountain, currently enjoys the right to build two 15,000-foot homes on 28 acres. Under the proposed zone district, the mine could accommodate only one house of 2,000 or 3,000 feet, even though the severely disturbed site sits right next to town.On the other hand, even 2,000 square feet would arguably be too much if built high on the steep and brushy slopes of Smuggler near the viewing platform. After all, development will require county services from road improvements to police and fire protection, all of which comes at a cost to taxpayers.Instead of blanketing the entire mountain with a one-size-fits-all solution, this new zone should be truly transitional, with one more generous size limit for the already-developed lower flanks of Smuggler, and something more restrictive up high, where the woods begin.
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