Virtue calls for a second look at Virtue’s exception | AspenTimes.com
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Virtue calls for a second look at Virtue’s exception

Aspen Times writer

At first glance, it appears the virtuous thing for Snowmass Town Councilman Dick Virtue to do would be to pay the town $27,240.65 for the extra space in his Divide subdivision home.After a series of historic errors and administrative exceptions are factored in, Virtue owns a home that is 94 square feet larger than is permitted on his property.The town code allows for over-the-limit additions, but in order to receive the extra space, homeowners are required to pay an excise tax that goes toward affordable housing. Virtue was excused from paying that tax earlier this month after the Town Council, by a 31 vote, rejected the town planning department’s recommendation on the matter.Frankly, the vote came across badly. It appeared to the outsider – that’s almost everybody – that the Town Council was taking care of its own. Only Doug Mercatoris sided with the planning department, arguing that the town has made other errant homeowners pay taxes for extra space, and it shouldn’t be any different with Virtue.Virtue has one argument that works in his favor on this question, and another argument that works against him.The argument in favor is based on the fact that the town building department underestimated the size of his house when it issued a certificate of occupancy for the house in the early 1990s. Virtue subsequently added a small amount of closet space, thinking he had room to grow before he hit the 5,500-square-foot cap.The argument that runs against Virtue is based on the fact that he did not apply for a building permit to expand the closets. He only applied for the permit when he decided to sell his house. In fact, the reason the town planning department became aware of the additional square footage was because of his attempt to get after-the-fact permission for the closet space.The planning department ruled that Virtue owed $27,240.65, but the Town Council excused Virtue because the department had miscalculated the original size of Virtue’s home. The council decided that Virtue should pay $269.95 for the building permit, other fees and a small ($91) penalty.To his credit, Virtue admits that he erred in not acquiring a building permit for the closet space. He has demonstrated his willingness to take responsibility and pay the costs associated with that oversight. He maintains, however, that he should not have to pay the costs associated with the town’s original oversight. Perhaps.But Virtue wouldn’t have this problem if he’d simply followed the law in the mid-1990s. And one has to wonder if a less-connected member of the community would be treated the same way.Here’s the rub: Would the council excuse anyone from paying taxes on the extra square footage if they’d built it without a permit?If council members can honestly answer “yes” to that question, then they made a fair, common-sense decision. But if the answer is “no,” then Virtue and the town should reconsider. The money would go to a good cause, and offering special treatment to elected officials erodes the town’s credibility.


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