Mt. Crested Butte tightens up rules on building height

More restrictive method of measuring

A new method of measuring building heights in Mt. Crested Butte could be more restrictive to builders, depending on the slope of the construction site, officials say.


The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council’s first ordinance of 2008 was approved in first reading during a regular meeting on Tuesday, March 18. It was up for second reading on April 2.
Ordinance No. 1, Series 2008, changes and adds new definitions to the town code that will effectively alter the way height is measured in new construction projects. Community development coordinator Carlos Velado says, “It’s a case-by-case basis, but what it really does is put limits on how high in elevation, above grade, you could build a house.”
The ordinance works by amending the definitions of “grade” and “height,” and adding new definitions for “official topographic map” and “topographic elevation” in the town code.
Velado says the biggest change is the definition of height. “We currently measure from finished grade. You could begin with 20 feet of fill, but the house doesn’t get measured any bigger from that grade. There’s no real limit on height, in how much fill you can use,” he says.
With this change, Velado says the town has the option of measuring from finished grade, or the existing grade, whichever is more restrictive. The existing grade would be determined by an official topographic map, created from U.S. Geological Survey measurements and the measurements of town staff, which will be adopted along with the ordinance.
Velado says the town has been working on the ordinance for more than a year; recently a height credit for some buildings on sloped lots was removed under the direction of the Town Council.
The Planning Commission recommended the ordinance for approval on July 25, 2007, with the height credit in place. The Town Council considered the ordinance on August 21. According to a memo from the town’s planning consultant Julie Ann Woods, the council “directed staff to come back with revisions, indicating that the credit was too much, and could result in taller buildings than they wanted to see.”
The ordinance was then sent back to the Planning Commission, which held a joint work session with the Town Council on January 23 to resolve the issues.
Woods writes, “Based on the direction from the council and commission, staff is presenting new language that reflects this direction to not provide a ‘credit’ for the way height is measured for buildings on a slope of 11 percent or greater.”
Velado says a building site must be flattened before building on a steep slope. While there’s nothing restricting a builder from adding tons of material to make a flat surface, Velado says it more often involves cutting into the slope on one side and filling on the other.
With the proposed changes, he says, this created scenarios where the building heights were very restrictive on steep slopes, while less restrictive on moderate slopes, since heights were now measured by the existing grade.
“In all the examples we looked at it was more restrictive. In one example it was seven inches, in another it was up to two feet,” Velado says. Thus a credit was considered for houses on slopes greater than 11 degrees to allow additional fill to bring the house level with the slope.
During the meeting Mayor Chris Morgan said the ordinance seemed to include the changes the council had discussed with the Planning Commission. Morgan explained that in addition to the angle of the slope, the angle of the roof would also affect the way heights are measured. “It looks like it could reduce the height of buildings with moderately pitched roofs by about two feet,” Morgan said of the ordinance.
Builders should note that this ordinance affects many of the remaining empty lots in town. “Generally speaking, most of the lots remaining as vacant are some of the less desirable lots to build on, that being they are steeper, harder to get a driveway and some of the materials in,” Velado says.
With no further deliberation, the Town Council unanimously approved Ordinance No. 1, 2008 during first reading. The council held their second reading and consideration of the ordinance on April 2.

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