Tony Vagneur: Pitkin County commissioner deserves kudos for his stand on Woody Creek housing
In the environs of Woody Creek, there’s a shout-out going to Greg Poschman for his comments concerning the Phillips Trailer Park this past week. If you don’t know, the BOCC expressed desire at a work session to dramatically increase density at the park, all in the name of affordable housing. The theory is to push development out into a neighboring, reasonably level hayfield, creating 30 to 50 new dwellings. An empty hayfield, every developer’s dream.
Greg said it best: “We have worked for many decades to keep a rural feel to this county, and it’s noticeable. When you cross the county line, you know you’re in Pitkin County. And that was intentional. It took a hell of a lot of work, and blood, sweat and tears, a lot of public angst and discourse to create that.”
Phillips Trailer Park is within the Woody Creek Caucus boundaries and yes, affordable housing is an issue around here, but maybe the solution is somewhere else other than just building more. If you’ve been reading the local rags, it’s clear the conversation about housing is changing and maybe some new ideas will emerge. It’s easy to bulldoze the hayfield, mostly because Pitkin County already owns it and it’s a laid-back decision, but maybe we shouldn’t always take the easy road.
Snowmass Canyon, the east end of which contains the Phillips Trailer Park, is quite narrow and is blessed with some remaining agricultural views on the northern side of the Roaring Fork River. The last remaining vestiges of open land in the canyon before exiting to the east are the aforementioned Phillips hayfields. What a tragedy it would be to clog that view with more development.
Years ago, and still today, it is common for folks around here to bash Vail development along Interstate 70, and for good reason — it’s an ugly stretch of highway. Pete Seibert, one of the developers of Vail and a fellow Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol alumnus, was the honored speaker at a ski patrol reunion we had a few years ago. He gave us great insight into how it all occurred, the timeline, early ticket sales, run development, etc. Near the end, he said he was not proud of the way development had sprung up along the I-70 corridor, but it was too late. Unfortunately, that aspect of Vail was beyond his control.
According to the by-laws of the Woody Creek Caucus, approved by Pitkin County: “Any proposed land use activities in the Woody Creek Master Plan Area shall require the approval of the Woody Creek District Planning Commission after receipt of formal recommendations and comments by the Woody Creek Caucus.” Additionally, “Woody Creek is proud to currently devote an exceptionally large percentage of its housing stock to low- and moderate-income housing. No additional high density or high-rate employee housing developments shall be permitted.”
A shortage of affordable housing in Aspen is not Woody Creek’s problem, nor is it Phillip’s. There is a tendency of late to push upvalley problems down the creek, which seems out of line. Let’s increase sprawl. Just put 30 to 50 more cars on Lower River Road, or attempt to get them on and off Highway 82, especially at rush hour and see how well that works.
In addition, Woody Creek is likely to see a huge increase in construction in the next 1-5 years, with the sale of a couple of large properties and the desire by new owners to “go big.” Dump trucks, concrete trucks, plumbers, stone masons, computer salesmen, rainmakers, etc., up and down the road at all hours.
Pitkin County has tried to put a lid on growth, to try to keep our remaining open spaces pristine, but the increase in construction and density has managed to slither through its grasp. Timorously capping house size at 5,750 square feet a few years ago has been routinely circumvented by transferrable development rights, still allowing ugly monsters of up to 15,000 square feet.
We need to do more. Minimum developable lot size, 160 acres; maximum house size, 5,750, period. Figure a way to sterilize TDRs. It’s a difficult road, but steel up commissioners, before the entire ship goes down.
Kudos to commissioner Greg Poschman for having the guts to stand up for his constituent’s rights and to step out of the circle of group think (more affordable housing at any cost) and suggest a different, more enlightened approach that examines the full costs, not only in dollars, but in terms of quality of life.
Jan Schoeberlein will be greatly missed by the Woody Creek community. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.