Pitkin County Reduces Maximum Home Size Cap to 9250 SF in Bold Move Towards Sustainability and Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Stephanie Kroll

In a significant development, Pitkin County commissioners are spearheading a transformative shift in house-size regulations for new constructions. Their ambitious goal is to cap allowable square footage at 9,250 for homes by the end of 2023, marking a crucial step in a broader initiative addressing growth management and energy efficiency.

Notably, the commissioners have clarified that while no moratorium on new home applications is planned, an interim cap of 9,250 square feet will not apply to properties already in the pipeline or those with approved but unbuilt houses. Presently, most areas in unincorporated Pitkin County adhere to a 15,000-square-foot limit, although certain zones have more stringent caps.

This reduction in house size serves as the inaugural phase in an extensive 18- to 24-month process. The county is actively updating its growth-management regulations, prompted by insights from a Community Growth Advisory Committee established a year ago. After ten months of study, the committee presented recommendations to the commissioners in the summer, prompting the legislative actions currently underway.

The committee's recommendations include advocating for an 8,750-square-foot limit in most areas of unincorporated Pitkin County, with a slightly more lenient 9,250-square-foot cap within the urban growth boundary, closer to Aspen and Snowmass Village.

Urgent actions, such as the interim house-size cap, have been prompted by the belief that adopting the 9,250-square-foot limit, as opposed to a stricter one, would facilitate more comprehensive growth-management changes.

Commissioner Greg Poschman expressed enthusiasm about implementing the committee's recommendations, hoping to witness the fruition of this work during his term, up for re-election in 2024. In contrast, Commissioner Steve Child will be term-limited when his current tenure concludes in 2024.

The county government is not stopping there. They are exploring immediate measures aligned with their energy goals, considering caps on exterior energy use from systems like snowmelt, spas, pools, and outdoor heated spaces. A potential "BTU cap" might be part of an update to the county's energy code, aligning with their focus on energy efficiency.

Breaking news from Aspen indicates that the Pitkin County commissioners have finalized a rule to reduce the maximum new home build size from 15,000 to 9,250 square feet. This proposal, rooted in recommendations from the Community Growth Advisory Committee aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is specific to certain portions of unincorporated Pitkin County and may undergo edits before its final passage.

The commissioners also approved more restrictive pockets within the county. The Brush Creek area, Capitol Creek and lower Snowmass Creek, and the Basalt urban growth boundary now have a house-size cap of 5,750 square feet, while the Emma area’s cap is set at 8,250 square feet. The estimated timeline for these changes to be adopted is 18-24 months.

The board is not stopping here. Anticipating a broader range of land-use code revisions in 2024, the commissioners are contemplating reducing the maximum house size to 8,750 square feet.

However, the question arises: Will these smaller home sizes truly make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint of homes?

The Aspen Board of Realtors takes a stance that limiting property and homeowner rights is not necessarily a positive move, citing little evidence to prove that smaller homes will significantly reduce emissions. Yet, a 2022 study suggests otherwise, stating that 85% of existing homes in unincorporated Pitkin County are already under 6,000 square feet, with residential buildings accounting for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in the valley—much higher than emissions from transportation, waste, and commercial buildings.

As these changes unfold, it will be intriguing to observe how they impact resale real estate prices and development in Aspen over time. Stay tuned for updates on this evolving scenario.

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