Pitkin County: Transferable development rights still yielding desired result | PostIndependent.com

Pitkin County: Transferable development rights still yielding desired result

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesPost IndependentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Reducing allowable home sizes in Pitkin County in order to increase the market for transferable development rights received plenty of discussion from county commissioners Tuesday, but little support.Only Commissioner George Newman voiced interest in further cutting the existing home-size caps, both to keep a viable market for transferable development rights, or TDRs, and to discourage mansions that don’t forward the community’s environmental goals.”We should zone it like we mean it,” he said.Commissioner Rachel Richards said she’s willing to have the discussion, but didn’t outright advocate reducing the caps.In general, commissioners lauded the TDR program, initiated in 1994, which allows owners of backcountry lands zoned Rural and Remote to sell the development rights off those parcels for use in areas deemed more appropriate for growth. The TDR program has since been expanded – parcels where development is constrained, for example, are eligible to sell a TDR, as are historic properties. TDR buyers can gain development rights or build square footage beyond the 5,750 square feet allowed on any parcel in unincorporated Pitkin County except Rural and Remote lands. To construct a home of more than 5,750 square feet, up to a maximum of 15,000 square feet, a landowner can buy one or more TDRs (each is worth 2,500 square feet of development) or seek additional square footage from the county’s annual growth allotment. Several commissioners complained that floor area is too easy to come by through the latter approach and said the allotment should be reduced.If the county reduced the 5,750 house-size cap and the amount of square footage available with a TDR, buyers might be inclined to purchase even more TDRs to increase the size of their homes – the impetus for the idea.Since TDRs were implemented, more than 5,840 acres in the backcountry have been sterilized from development, according to Cindy Houben, county director of community development. Since the program began, certificates for 306 TDRs have been issued; 116 have been extinguished through use for development elsewhere. Approvals have been granted for the use of 332 TDRs (they haven’t all been used – or even created).”We have accomplished our original goal to a large extent with TDRs by preserving a great amount of acreage in the backcountry,” she said.Now, though, the impacts of those TDRs – particularly larger homes in areas that are rural, though not backcountry parcels within the national forest – have led to reduced house-size caps in the Emma area, the Fryingpan River Valley and the Snowmass Creek/Capitol Creek area. Those neighborhoods adopted master plans that clamp down on home size and the county has since adopted the restrictions.”To me, the discussion is how do we keep the demand up [for TDRs], with less impact to the receiving areas,” Richards said.”This is a huge balancing act,” Commissioner Jack Hatfield agreed, “but I think we’ve done a tremendous job. Keep doing it.”The tradeoff for sterilizing private inholdings in the backcountry is increased development somewhere else, Hatfield said, but preventing the construction of backcountry mansions or subdivisions is “the most pertinent thing.”Cliff Weiss, a member of the city of Aspen’s Planning & Zoning Commission, urged the county to weight TDRs in order to preserve high-profile and high-priority sites within the urban growth boundary that surrounds Aspen. The Castle Creek Valley and lower Independence Pass are two areas where Weiss said he’d like to see TDRs used to preserve the scenery rather than used to facilitate the construction of huge homes.”I’m concerned the Aspen UGB has become something of a dumping ground,” Weiss said.Pockets of unincorporated Pitkin County within the boundary are considered acceptable places to use TDRs for development, but Houben, too, has heard complaints.”I’ve definitely heard on the city side of things, it’s an impact, having TDRs land in the urban area,” she said.The county approached the city about allowing use of TDRs within the city itself – arguably the most logical place for development – but the city declined, Richards noted.”The TDR program doesn’t eliminate growth – it just moves it around,” she said.Undecided after Tuesday’s discussion was whether the program needs tweaking. janet@aspentimes.com

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