True selected as hearing officer for Droste land case |

True selected as hearing officer for Droste land case

Brent Gardner-Smith

Former Pitkin County Commissioner Jim True will serve as the hearing officer in a Feb. 12 hearing on two applications submitted by Peter Droste.

Droste, whose family owns nearly a thousand acres in the Brush Creek Valley, has applied for a 1041 review of a $4 million, 2-mile long driveway that requires seven bridges and two tunnels to reach a proposed 15,000-square-foot house located on top of the ridge between the Brush Creek and Owl Creek valleys.

Droste also hopes to develop up to 20 more homes on 300 acres parcels on the ridge, which is considered sensitive wildlife habitat by the Colorado Division of Wildlife. In 1999, Droste sold conservation easements on 500 acres of neighboring land to Pitkin County and Snowmass Village for $7.5 million. That followed up a $480,000 easement sale in 1996 of 100 acres. A conservation easement allows governments to protect land from development while allowing property owners to keep possession of the property.

The easements left Droste with 304 acres of land, and he is currently seeking to use that parcel for the homes.

Normally, a 1041 application is reviewed by a staff member of the Aspen/Pitkin Community Development department. For the Droste applications, the hearing officer was originally Lance Clarke, the deputy director of planning for the county.

However, given the controversy of the Droste proposal and the likelihood of future litigation if the application is denied, Clarke took the unprecedented step of recusing himself as hearing officer.

True, who served as a county commissioner from 1988 to 1996 and is an attorney in Aspen, was chosen by the county to hear the case on Feb. 12-13.

Under county regulations, a land-use application that is consistent with county zoning needs only to show that it is in compliance with 1041 regulations. Those rules govern where houses can be located in light of the hazards or sensitivities of the site, which could include flooding, landslides, avalanche danger, wildfire hazard or sensitive wildlife habitat.

The homesite Droste has applied for is in the Department of Wildlife’s mapped wildlife habitat, meaning it is in direct conflict with the county’s land-use code.

Peter Droste concedes that the application does not likely comply with the 1041 regulations.

“If 1041 is exerted on the properties, it is very probable that we will be turned down,” he said.

But he also plans on making the case that 1041 regulations do not apply to his remaining 304 acres in the first place.

“I’ve been doing some research and found that we are exempt,” Droste said recently from his office in Massachusetts. “That will be the first point brought up at the hearing.”

Droste said that since Pitkin County adopted the 1041 regulations in October of 1974 and his property was zoned for homes on 10-acre lots in March of 1974, he has a right to build on 10-acre homesites, regardless of 1041.

Gabe Preston, the Pitkin County planner on the case, declined to speculate on Droste’s claim.

“Whatever is going to come out, will come out at the hearing,” he said.

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