A loophole in Pitkin County’s land-use code allowed a huge wedding on the backside of Aspen mountain last weekend. The size of the ceremony angered area residents. Now, Pitkin County Commissioners are scrambling to close the loophole. How they plan to do that is still up in the air. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen attended their meeting yesterday and filed this report.
For two hours yesterday the Pitkin County Commissioners debated back and forth about how to make sure such a big event like Saturday’s wedding doesn’t happen again. Keeping such mega-events out of what’s classified as the Rural and Remote Zone District became a top priority after outrage in the community. Cindy Houben is the County’s Community Development director.
"There are some zone districts where large special events are very, very, very appropriate - you know, we’ve got the X Games, we’ve got events that run throughout the county on public roads."
She says the wedding on Saturday included 27,000 square feet of development complete with a temporary chapel. It was, says Houben, inappropriate for the area, a district that’s meant to conserve and protect the natural environment.
The elected leaders agreed. Commissioner George Newman says the wedding burdened neighbors nearby who had to deal with several large truckloads of equipment.
"And, it was reinforced this last week when I was reading letters to the editor and editorials, where people in the community responded even though they weren’t directly, negatively impacted. It was an affront to our community norms and values," he says.
A loophole kept the county from preventing the wedding. Because wedding attendees weren’t paying for entry, the event wasn’t subject to a review by county staff. County Planner Mike Kraemer says his department had to issue permits for tents and flooring.
"That was on the basis that they were temporary and we did not have code to prohibit something like that. We had no land use code or building code that said we could deny ten permit codes of that capacity."
At the meeting Kraemer suggested closing the loophole with an emergency ordinance that would limit the number of people allowed at gatherings in areas zoned as Rural and Remote to 25. That didn’t sit well with many of the commissioners and several members of the public. Nancy Snow is an event planner who says the public should be involved in such rule changes.
"I think we’re all shocked by what happened and it’s a good time for us to think and come up with some direction. We have a lot of sensitive people that throw wonderful events here, it’s a big industry for our town. Let’s give everybody a chance to get involved and problem solve instead of just blanket rules."
John Wilcox lives along Castle Creek Road.
"I think singling out rural and remote is a little unfair because all rural and remote is not created equal," he says.
He owns 15 acres that became rural and remote after he purchased the property.
"I have a children's party every fall and I don’t know how many people show up, but it’s over 50. So, to go through the process of filling out a permit to have kids come fish in the pond, kayak, mountain bike and have a hamburger would be cumbersome."
Another option to fix the loophole would be a moratorium that would prohibit the issuance of any permits for temporary structures, like tents, larger than 1000 square feet. This option would likely allow for most of the events already planned this summer.
An emergency ordinance that could limit the amount of people at a gathering in the rural and remote district is still on the table. The commissioners will meet again on Wednesday and likely make a decision.