Historic ranch development plan flawed, says Pitkin County | VailDaily.com

Historic ranch development plan flawed, says Pitkin County

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
The owners of the Red Butte Ranch on McLain Flats want to relocate three building sites from a bluff overlooking the Roaring Fork River, where two new houses now look out at the Burlingame housing project and Buttermilk Mountain. The new sites would be to the right of the photographer, at the base of a small conical hill that is just out of view.

ASPEN, Colorado The owners of some scenically stunning property at the eastern end of McLain Flats near Aspen want to shift three building sites from their approved location, on a bluff overlooking the Roaring Fork River, to what is potentially a more controversial part of the ranch.And Pitkin County commissioners arent sure they want to go along.Bob Hurst, owner of the Red Butte Ranch (formerly the Stein Ranch), already has built two homes on the 148-acre property, and has permission to build three more.All five building sites, as approved a decade ago, perch on a bluff overlooking the river and, on the other side of the river, the Burlingame affordable housing neighborhood.The ranch is a couple of miles outside of Aspen, reached by driving out Cemetery Lane and across the Roaring Fork River at Stein Park, then climbing the steep hill toward the McLain Flats mesa.Hurst has decided he would rather build the remaining three homes on newly created lots arrayed around a conical hill, known as the Dollard Rock Outcrop Hill, rather than on the bluff overlooking the river.As justification for his proposal, Hurst and his development team showed the county commissioners a simulation of what the bluff would look like if seen from across the river or from McLain Flats Road, once the homes were built.I think theres no question that those visual impacts would be quite significant, said land-use consultant Alan Richman at Wednesdays meeting of the county commissioners.The hill proposed for the new building sites is close to the McLain Flats Road right of way and on the northwestern border of a large, scenic pasture that has been preserved as agricultural open space as part of the development approvals for the ranch.Richman, representing Hurst, told the Board of County Commissioners that the proposal before them was the result of a conclusion that the approved development plan for the ranch was flawed because the home sites, as approved, are too visible. The new lots would be on the southern and western side of the base of the hill and only one lot, with its house, would be clearly visible from westbound traffic along McLain Flat Road.But Richman conceded at least two of the new lots would be visible from the Burlingame neighborhood and the nearby Aspen Business Center.Richman outlined a variety of incentives that Hurst is offering in return for permission to move the building sites, including the addition of 23 acres of dedicated open space on top of more than 98 acres of open space that were part of the original approvals.Hurst also offered to convey to the county a pond next to the Rio Grande Trail and to provide access to a nearby area known as Gold Butte for ice climbers and rock climbers; and to place a conservation easement over much of the open space so that no development could ever occur there, including Dollard Rock Outcrop Hill.Hurst also proposed limiting the size of the three homes, which can be built to 8,500 square feet (above grade) under existing zoning.Under his plan, one of the homes would be no larger than 5,750 square feet, another would be 7,500 square feet, and the third would be 8,500 square feet. He also asked the county to be given a 20-year period of vested rights, meaning he could take that long to build the homes.Pitkin County planners recommended against the proposal, in part because of concerns that building the homes and an access road at the bottom of Dollard Rock would pose unacceptable problems for wildlife that winters there. The hill has been designated as critical winter habitat by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.The countys Planning and Zoning Commission, while it recommended approval of the project, did so only with a number of conditions, among them that all three homes be limited to no more than 5,750 square feet in size. The P&Z also recommended the vested rights period be only for five years beyond the expiration of the current vested rights, in October 2010.Im not sold on moving the lots, said BOCC chair Patti Clapper at the end of a discussion of the plan, before she and the two other board members present voted to continue the hearing on the matter until at least next month. Commissioners Michael Owsley and Rachel Richards were not present.Clapper predicted a big public outcry if the board simply agreed to Hursts proposal, in part because the building sites would be in plain view of motorists on McLain Flats Road, residents of the Burlingame neighborhood and visitors and residents at the Aspen Business Center.The matter will be taken up by the BOCC again in either April or May, to allow time for the commissioners to go on a site visit of the ranch.jcolson@aspentimes.com

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