A new law in Pitkin County aimed at improving response times for emergency personnel could force more than 100 residences to change their addresses, which some fear will cause a logistical nightmare.
Pitkin County on Wednesday will consider the new address ordinance. Commissioner Michael Owsley on Friday acknowledged that the ordinance is a “very sensitive community issue.” But officials believe adopting the new rule, which was first discussed in May, will reduce confusion by police, ambulance workers and other responders.
An “address committee” set up by the county’s community development department has identified 150 driveways that officials believe should be named, or renamed, to better assist emergency responders, according to a memo to the commissioners. Besides a first reading of the ordinance on Wednesday, a public hearing is set for Oct. 24.
The driveways in question, including 55 in subdivisions such as Mountain Valley, Brush Creek Village and Hidden Meadows, serve three or more “addressable structures,” says the memo. It was written by Bruce Romero, acting director of the county communications center, as well as community development director Cindy Houben and communications specialist Ginny Bultman.
If the ordinance is passed, such driveways, which are either unnamed or have a name that is duplicated elsewhere in the county, will be labeled as non-conforming.
“Note that some of these [areas] have caused response time issues with public safety,” the memo says.
But longtime Aspen-area resident Marcella Larsen said the ordinance will likely catch hundreds of property owners unaware.
“I live on one of these properties with three or more ‘addressable’ structures (which have been there in one form or another since the 1950s), and no one has ever been lost because our private driveway didn’t have a name other than Maroon Creek Road,” she wrote in an email. “A couple of years ago, we had a fire, and a fire truck, ambulance and an army of volunteer firefighters arrived within five minutes of my 911 call, so I know from firsthand experience that there are no issues on Maroon Creek Road.”
County staff has met with the Woody Creek, Snowmass/Capitol Creek, Fryingpan, East of Aspen and Crystal River Valley caucuses. Among residents’ concerns, according to the memo, is whether the county is going to change every address.
“Staff explained that this ordinance is more about helping us go forward with standards based on reason and clarity rather than looking backward and making changes to existing addresses,” the memo says. “Staff noted that Pitkin County has no plans to make sweeping address changes; however we must attend to any egregious hazard to public safety that is encountered.”
Other concerns include that naming roads and driveways will take away from the rural nature of the county; how the changes will affect mortgages, insurance policies, titles and voter registration; and alerting the U.S. Postal Service and delivery companies like UPS and Federal Express.
County officials plan on using green road signs that are “some of the most rural in nature that staff has researched,” the memo says.
As for those who are required to change their address: “A letter and packet of material will be sent to the homeowner advising them of the need to make changes to these records,” according to the memo. “This packet will contain as much information as possible with instructions on how to make the changes.”
That’s not enough for Larsen, who said she is worried about the expense, monetary and otherwise, of changing the address her family has had since World War II.
“The paperwork will be expensive, and there’s also, of course, the more practical aspect of having to alert all my friends and family of a new address when we haven’t moved,” she wrote. “Frankly, a change of address for a family who has been in the same place since the 1940s (when my grandfather bought the property) is more than just a hassle and paperwork expense: There’s an enormous infrastructure cost (a gate with numbers, numbers on all the houses, all of which would have to be torn out at substantial expense) and a sense of ownership of place.”
Commissioners Owsley and George Newman both said the immediate emphasis will be on street names for new businesses and subdivisions to prevent duplication.
Owsley said the ordinance will likely be approved but carried out in a “very considered” way.
“My concern is to keep rural areas rural, and I think that’s the goal of all the commissioners,” he said. “There’s not going to be an unnecessary imposition of addresses on people who don’t want them. But [we] do want to ensure the health and safety of residents so people can get to an address in short order.
“There’s some difficulty with that now.”
Owsley used as an example a spur road off of McLain Flats Road. Homes accessed using the spur road have addresses using McLain Flats Road.
That can lead to confusion as an ambulance searches the main McLain Flats Road for a home that might not even be on it.
The current state of addresses does not allow the county to negate the use of existing street names for new subdivisions and businesses, Newman said.
He said he thinks the county can alleviate emergency personnel’s confusion without an abundance of new signs.
“We certainly don’t want to have a lot of new signs throughout the county,” he said.
And implementing the address ordinance will not be done wholesale, Owsley said.
“It’s going to be very small baby steps, beginning with addresses that present serious safety concerns,” he said.
Community development staff was directed Oct. 2 to work on a more inclusive management plan ahead of the ordinance being approved and enacted.