Bayens: TDRs make for an ironic culprit
In civil society, we choose to live by a set of rules — requirements that should be applied consistently and free of any special consideration. The alternative creates the appearance of impropriety, can suggest a personal agenda, and even reveal hypocrisy.
Public comments made by Pitkin County commissioners this past week specific to transferable development rights (TDRs) and regarding the Craig Ranch harken such unseemly qualities and expose an arrogant indifference.
Over my 18 years in real estate, I have helped dozens of clients perfect and sell these TDR certificates. To date, the program has preserved nearly 10,000 acres of pristine Pitkin County backcountry.
The program, established in 1997, is now on the chopping block. In exchange for protecting these rural and remote parcels — in many cases, old mining claims with the right to build 1,000-square-foot cabins — the county allows owners to monetize and transfer the square footage to others who can then build larger homes in places, like Red Mountain. There, they have less impact and are closer to utilities and public services.
The rub is the commissioners want to eliminate the mansions these TDRs make possible. They cite their excessive energy use. Officials are set to amend the land-use code next year and have been clear they plan to reduce the current allowable square footage maximums. Those same bureaucrats have decided TDRs are the culprit.
This week, one commissioner was quoted saying TDRs are like UFOs “ready to land at any moment” and an “invasion hovering over the town.” After openly demonizing the innovative program, the same public servants congratulated themselves after spending $6 million of taxpayer money to preserve 800 acres in Woody Creek.
One commissioner flippantly suggested local Realtors “would cringe” not having the opportunity to sell the parcels to greedy developers. These inappropriate yet shockingly candid comments show a remarkable lack of impartiality and disdain for their own rules.
It has been the honor of my career to help dozens of landowners to perfect and sell their TDRs. One of my clients was just a kid when the federal government told his family to sell land they owned to make way for Ruedi Reservoir. Later, he would help to build the very dam that eventually flooded the section taken by eminent domain. After three tours in Vietnam as a chopper pilot, he returned to valley. He’s far from a rich man, and the TDRs I sold for him funded his retirement.
The county wasn’t his friend in the process. Rather, they required years of hearings, using more than $50,000 he borrowed for planners, surveyors, and attorneys along the way. He joked with me once, saying flying through enemy flak in ‘Nam was easier. But, he got it done, and now, hundreds of acres up Miller Creek will forever remain untouched.
Another of my clients was one of a group of generational ranchers who owned hundreds of acres west of Carbondale. Their sale of more than a dozen TDRs not only abandoned the right to build out the parcels, but was also later used to fund a movement working to restrict oil and gas drilling in the area, better known as the Thompson Divide Coalition.
But, the outlook looks even tougher for those with applications in the pipeline now. In fact, some requests seem poised to be used as justification to end TDRs once and for all.
A young, visionary couple I work with purchased 450 acres along Prince Creek Road. They’ve now offered to conserve or limit development of the 14 homesites there, each with the 7,500 square feet of allowable floor area ratio.
In exchange, they’re asking for three TDRs and permission to build an indoor riding arena meant for an equine-assisted therapy operation. The rest of the ranch they intend to manage sustainably, as well as set aside 120 acres as open space for wildlife. They’ve also offered to build a rest station for the benefit of riders using the popular biking trails nearby.
Last month, they hit a brick wall with commissioners. One of their options now? Sell to a developer to erect rows of mansions to the benefit of no one but their owners.
The commissioners justify their position as a means to reduce carbon. Meanwhile, there’s no effort to address such output from commercial buildings in the county. They ignore the jobs these projects create — and pat themselves on the back for ranches they work to set aside to the benefit of people they know that should require their collective recusal.
Should some applications for TDRs be questioned or denied? Of course. And yes, we need limits on house sizes, as carbon neutrality is a worthy pursuit. But, these positions only serve to confirm suspicions ulterior motives are at play. Changes proposed by the county are clearly at odds with the public good. Here’s hoping these public servants listen to reason in the coming year.
Scott Bayens is a Realtor with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. Visit his website at http://www.scottbayens.com.