ASPEN – BASALT – When Pitkin County rejected Grace Church’s controversial building plan, commissioners Rachel Richards and George Newman weren’t on the board yet, but they could be held liable for the decision.County commissioners had denied the church’s 2003 plan for two church buildings — of 8,600 and 2,800 square feet — and a 1,000-square-foot residence on 18 1/2 acres in Emma, just downvalley of Basalt. Neighbors said the church and its parking lot would harm the area’s rural character and set a precedent for commercial development there. Commissioners agreed, sparking a lawsuit from the church, which claimed the county violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, meant to ease construction for houses of worship.Last year, the county agreed to settle out-of-court, agreeing to pay $350,000 to the church and another $325,000 for legal fees in exchange for Grace Church agreeing not to apply to develop the land in the next decade.

By David Frey, August 29, 2009 Aspen Daily News

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