Should Pitkin County adhere to its own code?
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” A proposed change in the county code would prevent ordinary residents from using Pitkin County’s own regulations to derail what are known as “public infrastructure projects” such as roads, bridges and communications facilities.
The ordinance in question is being written by Assistant County Attorney Chris Seldin and, so far, he has held at least two meetings with the Pitkin County commissioners, “looking for direction from you, as to what you want,” he told the board this week.
The proposed new county code, titled “Pitkin County Project Development,” is in response to a case in 2007 when a group of Castle Creek property owners sued to stop work on a pedestrian trail between the Aspen Music Festival and School campus and the Marolt seasonal housing complex.
The proposed $1.9 million trail would have run along a 3,000-foot stretch of Castle Creek Road, and Pitkin County Open Space and Trails officials had the right to build it in a county right of way, officials said.
In December 2007, 13 landowners in the Castle Creek Valley won a restraining order from a local judge, halting work on the project and ruling that private citizens have the right to enforce the county’s land-use regulations against public projects. The judge’s ruling is now under appeal.
In the meantime, the county commissioners have directed their attorney’s office to keep working on the proposed new ordinance, which outlines a process for public input and approval or rejection by the county commissioners.
“The code amendment makes clear that many existing code provisions were not designed to address public infrastructure project development, and consequently establishes a review and approval process that is tailored toward public infrastructure projects,” Seldin wrote in a memo to the county board.
Seldin’s memo noted that at the previous county commissioners meeting on the topic, “several members of the public voiced their opposition to the proposed amendment,” maintaining that the intent was to exempt the county from following its own rules.
And at the commissioners’ work session on Nov. 25, Redstone resident Bob Dupre added his voice to those who think the county is trying to get out from under the weight of its own regulations.
Arguing that any change in land use requires private citizens to undergo a thorough review under the county’s land-use code, Dupre said the same should go for the county government.
Dupre said he had believed the county was simply trying to enable its various departments to undertake projects to repair and maintain its infrastructure, such as roads.
He said he grew concerned upon hearing that the impetus for the code amendment was the Castle Creek Trail fight, arguing that the trail was not a matter of repairing or maintaining existing facilities, but constructing an entirely new trail.
“For citizens that feel the county is trying to exempt itself from its own ordinances,” Dupre told the board, “those words all raise a red flag.”
Seldin remarked that, as written to date, the code amendment probably would not cover the construction of trails.
The language provided to the county commissioners for the meeting describes specific types of “infrastructure,” such as “public roads, including improvements and alterations thereto; and redevelopment of the County Solid Waste Center. This chapter does not apply to development of affordable housing.”
The only other negative note regarding the proposed code amendment came from the county’s roads supervisor, Brian Pettet, who suggested the county was overreacting to the Castle Creek Trail fight.
“We’re making an ordinance over one project on one road,” he said to the board, noting that the trail fight in 2007 was the first in many years and that such disputes are not common.
Seldin, however, said that currently, the code provides only for a complete land-use review for any level of development, including public projects, and “the land use review process is not designed to handle that.”
He noted most county roads, for example, would never have been built under the existing county code, because they traverse avalanche zones and pose other hazards that would be considered impermissible in a residential or commercial development.
Commissioners Jack Hatfield and Rachel Richards both commented that citizens might justifiably conclude that the county was treating itself differently than ordinary residents.
“Maybe there’s some things we shouldn’t be doing,” Hatfield said, referring to the code amendment.
Commissioner Patti Clapper countered that the county has a legitimate need to be able to respond quickly to emergency situations involving roads and other “infrastructure,” and said, “I think the county is on track to do the right thing.”
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