The Pitkin County commissioners finalized a new rule Wednesday to reduce the maximum house size from 15,000 to 9,250 square feet, but there are a lot of “ifs” and “buts” attached to the move.
The big but is that the downzoning to 9,250 square feet is only an interim move. The board anticipates considering a broader range of land use code revisions in 2024 that would include reducing the maximum house size further, to 8,750 square feet.
“It will be back,” said Commissioner Patti Clapper. “We knew this was a way to get us moving forward.”
A citizen board appointed by the commissioners met for 10 months earlier this year to discuss how the land use code could be revised to help the county government achieve its goals of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The Community Growth Advisory Committee ultimately landed on a house-size cap of 8,750 square feet. However, leadership of the committee advised going with the higher figure of 9,250 square feet in this interim step to avoid a political slugfest. An interim step was recommended because it could take up to 18 months to adopt all the changes recommended by the committee.
“This was a hard-fought compromise to get to the committee’s recommendations,” County Manager Jon Peacock said.
But Cliff Weiss, a member of the growth committee, urged the commissioners to go with the lower figure right off the bat.
“I want you to all be a little bolder and take the lower number, which had the consensus of the advisory board,” Weiss said.
The commissioners were unwilling to go there, for now. They voted 4-1 to approve the 9,250-square-foot cap for most areas of unincorporated Pitkin County. They also approved more restrictive pockets within the county. The Brush Creek area, Capitol Creek and lower Snowmass Creek, and the Basalt urban growth boundary have a house-size cap of 5,750 square feet while the Emma area’s cap is 8,250 square feet.
Clapper cast the lone vote of dissent.
“It’s not because I don’t agree with the house-size issue,” she said.
Instead, she couldn’t support the rest of the board’s decision to remove one of four exemptions from the cap. As proposed, the new rules would have allowed use of transferable development rights in some cases to exceed the 9,250-square-foot cap. Commissioners Kelly McNicholas Kury and Greg Poschman were solidly opposed to that. Commissioners Francie Jacober and Steve Child were convinced by their colleagues to eliminate that exemption for now and discuss it in greater detail later. Clapper said removing the exemption would be “unfair” to a handful of landowners.
Poschman countered that anytime there is a mass downzoning, some people will feel it is unfair.
“I feel when we make a change, those things happen,” Poschman said. “If we’re going to commit to 9,250, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The board bogged down at times during the roughly 2.5-hour meeting on exemptions and what chairwoman Jacober called “minutiae.” She urged her colleagues to keep the big picture in mind.
Jacober said scientific evidence shows that homes larger than 8,500 square feet generate greenhouse gasses and create other “environmental havoc” in an exponential way. That’s why the county wanted to reduce house sizes from 15,000 square feet.
“It’s not just because some of us take offense at really big houses,” Jacober said. “It’s really about responding to our climate action plan and trying to be responsible stewards of our county.”
The climate action plan identified buildings as the source of about 70% of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. The growth committee’s report states that the largest homes are the most energy-intensive. Homes larger than 5,750 square feet comprised only 15% of the single-family home inventory in unincorporated Pitkin County in 2019, but emissions from large-home energy use accounted for 43.4% of the total residential energy use emission that year, according to a study conducted for the county that reviewed energy-use data for nearly 900 homes.
The reduced house-size cap to 9,250 square feet was effective immediately.
Scott Condon | Aspen Daily News | November 16, 2023