Special events pose challenge for Pitkin County | AspenTimes.com

Special events pose challenge for Pitkin County

A temporary structure is built on Little Annie Basin for a wedding in June prompted Pitkin County commissioners to address special events in a work session Tuesday.
Courtesy photo |

Eventful guidelines

The Pitkin County Planning & Zoning will proposed regulations to the county’s three zoning districts for special events at its Jan. 20 meeting. Here’s a breakdown of the proposed guidelines for special-event permits.

ASPEN AND BASALT URBAN GROWTH BOUNDARY

Permits would not be required if:

• Up to 200 people attend

• Event is held once a year

• Temporary structures don’t exceed 400 square feet

• Amplified music is within a permanent building

• If there are no fireworks

Minor event permit required if:

• More than 200 people, less than 500 attend

• Event is held two or three times a year

• Event is at least one day

• Temporary structures are more than 400 square feet

• Amplified music is within a temporary structure

• If there are noiseless fireworks

Major permit is required if:

• More than 500 people attend

• Event is held more than three times a year

• Square footage for structures yet to be determined

• Amplified music is held outside

• If there are noiseless fireworks

RURAL AREAS

Permits would not be required if:

• Up to 100 people attend

• Event is held once a year

• Temporary structures don’t exceed 400 square feet

• Amplified music is within a permanent building

• If there are no fireworks

Minor event permit required if:

• More the 100 people, less than 250

• Event is held more than three times a year

• Event is at least one day

• Temporary structures are more than 400 square feet

• Amplified music is within a temporary building or tent

• If there are noiseless fireworks

Major event permit is required if:

• More than 250 people

• More than three times year

• Event is longer than one day

• Square footage for structures yet to be determined

• Amplified music is outside

• If there are noiseless fireworks

RURAL AND REMOTE DISTRICT

Permit would not be required if:

• Up to 25 people attend

• Event is held once a year

• Temporary structures don’t exceed 400 square feet

• Amplified music is within a permanent building

Minor event permit required if:

• More than 25 people, not more than 200

• Event is two or three times a year

• Event is one day

• Temporary structures are more than 400 square feet and less than 1,000

• Amplified music is within a temporary building or tent

Major event permit required if:

• More than 100 people aren’t allowed for an event, but more than 100 people may attend if an event passes through the district (such as an athletic event)

• Event last longer than one day

• Structures can’t exceed 1,000 square feet

• Amplified music is outside

Whether it’s a small photo shoot, a neighborhood foot race or such high-profile events as the Winter X Games or the USA Pro Challenge cycling race, special events are big business in Pitkin County. Last year, the county issued 35 to 40 permits for special events, which is double the number of permits issued a decade ago, according to a study done by Aspen-based Alan Richman Planning Services Inc.

And the number of permits could increase even more if the county’s new guidelines for special events take effect, County Planner Mike Kraemer told the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday.

“Of all of the years I’ve been doing this, which is almost 10, county staff has never denied a permit,” Kraemer told the commission. Summer functions in particular, Kraemer noted, “play a role in our economy.”

The magnitude and scope of special events became a public issue after the flare-up over last summer’s wedding event on the backside of Aspen Mountain. The controversy stemmed from the gala being held in an area that the county has made off limits — part of the county’s rural and remote district — because of its pristine, sensitive setting. A temporary chapel was erected, along with a 27,000-square-foot tent for the reception, and other structures to accommodate the wedding.

Now a new proposal aims to regulate special events in all of unincorporated Pitkin County, not just the rural and remote zone district where the June 14 wedding occurred.

Clock ticking on Moratorium

In September, commissioners asked the Community Development Department to research potential revisions to the permitting process for special events, but they want all of unincorporated county to be subject to scrutiny. The Planning and Zoning Commission will meet again Jan. 20 to mull over pending changes to the special-events code, including a loophole that allowed the wedding to be held without a permit.

The clock is ticking on making a decision. On June 18, just days after the wedding, county commissioners passed a moratorium on “any and all permits that allow for structures, temporary, permanent or of any kind that would violate the use and dimension restrictions of the Rural and Remote Zone District.”

“The moratorium is focused on rural and remote,” consultant Alan Richman, whose firm was commissioned by the county to research how other counties similar to Pitkin regulate event, told the commission. “But (county commissioners) said ‘we don’t want to focus on just rural and remote.’”

The moratorium expires March 18, and county commissioners won’t decide on the changes until after the commission, which is an advisory board whose decisions aren’t binding, weighs in with a decision.

“The reason the board is concerned about the moratorium is because of the party planners in the community,” Cindy Hoeben, the director of Community Development, told P&Z. “They start planning now and if they, say, want a 10,000-square-foot tent, they’re working on it now for this summer. The board wanted to be respectful of party planners’ schedules and wanted to get it done in March so (the party planners) would have time to comply with the regulations.”

Pros and cons

Is it government’s role to regulate events — both big and small — throughout Pitkin County? That’s a question the Planning and Zoning Commission wrestled with at its Tuesday meeting, the first time it saw the proposed changes.

Some residents at the meeting voiced opposition to the wide-sweeping changes. But Sally Russo, who owns a home at Sopris Mountain Ranch, wrote Kraemer in December arguing that residents who stage big events and parties should notify their neighbors in advance. She urged the county to put stricter guidelines in place for special events.

“I disagree with the hot heads who claim this is over-reaching by government,” she wrote. “What I do see is in the 35 years that I have been in Pitkin County, there has been an erosion of respect for the rights of individuals by others who think all regulations are an affront to their freedoms. In particular, I find the influx of part-time residents with enormous financial resources building mini theme parks of second homes to be among the most blatant offenders.”

Russo also wrote that a nearby neighbor of hers had a party with more than 300 guests, “which clogged roads for hours. Had there been a need for fire or ambulance, it would have been difficult for help to arrive.”

Kraemer said the new thresholds would “create more standards, create more structure and create more framework for special events.”

“We’re trying to come up with a tipping point, if you will, of what type of event is appropriate for rural character,” Hoeben said. “What is the tipping point for a neighborhood that wants to keep its rural character? What we’re trying to do is put in standards so people know what is going to be required.”

But some residents believe there are other consequences that come with more government regulation of special events. The new codes, they worry, would force them to receive permits for gatherings they normally wouldn’t need permission to stage. And, claimed Marilee Anderson, who lives on East Sopris Creek, the guidelines could negatively affect their property values.

“The more restrictions and the more government regulations we have, it seems to affect property values,” she told the commission. “You all might want to consider how this affects property values.”

The Emma Caucus also has come out against the beefed-up regulations, and the commission is asking for more input from other residents, homeowners associations and caucuses before its next meeting.

For the commission members, the issue presents the dilemma of respecting neighbors’ rights and not harming the environment, versus the rights to which property owners are entitled.

“I think the reason we’re here is rural and remote, that’s what the public outcry was about,” commission member Trent Palmer said. “That specified zone district probably needs some this. I’m not sure we need it in rural areas, and I’m not sure we need it in the urban-growth boundary.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com


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