Tempers flare at Pitco work session
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Tempers among the Pitkin County commissioners flared up Tuesday after a former U.S. diplomat who lives in the Crystal River Valley offered a helping hand.
Royce Fichte, who lives on three acres downstream from Redstone, spoke to the commissioners at the end of their work session about their ongoing effort to amend the land-use code.
Fichte relayed his experience as a diplomat who negotiated agreements as a matter of course, and as a member of the Crystal Valley Caucus who is working on a set of land-use rules for that section of the county, and suggested the commissioners attempt to bring more dialogue into their own process.
And while he was at it, Fichte offered up a few of his own opinions about house sizes, transferable development rights and the growth-management system that is meant to slow the pace of residential development in Pitkin County.
There wasn’t anything inflammatory about Fichte’s comments until commission chairwoman Patti Clapper said she thought her colleagues should hold off discussion until Thursday’s scheduled and noticed meeting on the land-use code. Then, their tempers boiled over.
Commissioner Dorothea Farris, who invited the former diplomat to the work session, said she had a few things to say, and she attempted to say them. Like Fichte, Farris thought the process wasn’t working especially well and was being dominated by a relatively small number of people with interest in the changes proposed for land-use rules – the zoning – in rural areas. But as she began to pose a number of questions to Fichte, Clapper cut her off.
Clapper, in fact, spent the entire discussion reminding the other commissioners that they were not at a noticed meeting, and it would not be appropriate to question Fichte or deliberate on his comments.
As soon as Farris stopped talking, Clapper had to cut off commissioner Shellie Roy as she tried to ask Fichte a question about his opinion on zoning outside the urban areas.
When commissioner Mick Ireland attempted to answer the question that Roy had only partially asked, Roy became agitated, snapping at Clapper for letting Ireland answer a question she hadn’t asked. Then Roy began putting her hands over her eyes, ears and mouth. “It’s like we can see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil,” Roy said.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield then said he had a few questions for Fichte regarding the process. He admitted up front he was frustrated about his inability to get the information he needed from staff and the public to make up his mind on important matters. And when Clapper intervened with a comment, Hatfield exploded, “Patti, why don’t you finish letting me talk,” he said.
A few seconds later he apologized.
Then Farris spoke up again, venting a few of her frustrations with the process.
As an example, she noted that large land owners are still focused on an early proposal to require clustering of residential development on large tracts of land into a small geographic area. “We gave that up January and agreed that approvals would be site-specific, but people still can’t get past that concept,” she said. Other compromises from the original proposal have also gone largely unrecognized by those who attend the land-use meetings, Farris added.
“We just haven’t been able to get where we’re trying to go because we listen to people vent their frustrations and fears over and over and over,” Farris said.
By the time things simmered down, the commissioners agreed that they needed to discuss the land-use code among themselves without the benefit – or burden as the case may be – of public comment.
The meeting will be open for people to attend, and it will be taped for the viewing public on GrassRoots TV, but public comment will not be allowed unless the commissioners take Fichte up on his advice and invite a few people to join them at the table.
“I don’t know how you would choose those people,” Clapper said.
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