School district wins P&Z nod for more units |

School district wins P&Z nod for more units

Jeremy Heiman

Pitkin County’s Planning and Zoning Commission has approved a proposal that would double the number of school district affordable housing units in Woody Creek.The Aspen School District and Mary Jane Garth, owner of Aspen Valley Ranch, applied for permission to build 10 two-bedroom affordable housing units for school district employees and three large free-market houses. The new affordable dwellings would be constructed next to 10 affordable units (five duplexes) built by the district less than two years ago on land donated by Garth.The application is opposed by the Woody Creek Caucus, and the P&Z voted against the recommendation of Pitkin County’s planning staff. Lance Clarke, deputy director of planning for the county, said the proposal doesn’t comply with several master plans that specify that affordable housing should happen closer to existing development and in areas served by transit.But P&Z chairman Peter Martin and planning commissioner Peter Thomas voted to recommend approval. Planning commissioner Sheri Sanzone opposed it.”We felt this was a good project,” Martin said. “Of course, we’d prefer it to be closer in.”We disagreed with the conclusions about the intent of those master plans,” Martin said.And the 1997 Woody Creek Master Plan, Martin said, was never adopted by the county because it fails to address affordable housing.A memo prepared by the county planning department observed that the proposal doesn’t comply with the housing policies of the Aspen Area Community Plan, which encourages growth only within the urban growth boundary. The memo also noted that the application is out of synch with the Down Valley Comprehensive Plan, which maps the area as “Agricultural/Wildlife Reserve,” and the Woody Creek Master Plan.Michael Owsley, chairman of the Woody Creek Planning Commission, wrote that the caucus opposes piecemeal development and called for an overall plan for the school district property and Aspen Valley Ranch.”Modifications of previous approvals undermine planning and devalue all participation, input and thoughtful consideration our community already invested in Aspen Valley Ranch,” Owsley wrote.But Martin disagrees that the entire property should be planned in advance. First, he said, the planning commission doesn’t have the authority to require an overall plan for property such as Garth’s. Second, such a plan forces premature development, and third, creating an approved plan for land has major tax implications, Martin said.While agricultural land is taxed based on a small percentage of its value, vacant land, or platted land, is taxed at 29 percent of its value.The school district, as part of the original development approval, had the right to build one free-market house on a lot adjacent to the duplexes. That house was never built.The new plan calls for using that lot for the affordable housing instead, and moving the district’s free-market house approval to a nearby property owned by Garth. It calls for subdivision of 60 acres of Aspen Valley Ranch property into three free-market lots, including the one to which the approval would be moved.The three free-market houses would be exempted from jumping through the county’s growth management hoops. Projects with a mix of 70 percent or more affordable housing and no more than 30 percent free-market units are exempted to promote the construction of affordable housing.In order for the development to go forward, the property would have to be rezoned from RS-20, which allows one house per 20 acres, to AH3, the affordable housing planned unit development zone district specifically for sites outside the urban growth boundary.

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