Aspen softens historic preservation law
December 11, 2007
ASPEN ” Property owners who have been pegged as having historic buildings, and as a result were prohibited from altering them, got a reprieve Monday night from the Aspen City Council.
The council voted 5-0 to pass a modified version of the controversial Ordinance 48, which now puts 54 property owners on a “catch-and-release system.” Although they have been put on a list that identifies their properties as potentially historic, they can still apply for a building or demolition permit.
While those permits go through the application system, city officials will attempt to convince those property owners to landmark their properties as historic. That will be done by offering unidentified incentives to the property owners, which could come in the form of more building rights elsewhere.
“If we are unable to reach an agreement, you would be free to go on your way,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “It’s a cooling off period. This process only allows us to talk to you before you make it not historic anymore.”
Since July, certain property owners have been forbidden from demolishing or altering their buildings until city officials determined whether they were historic.
The original list contained 86 properties but upon City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss’ suggestion to remove all multifamily units (buildings with more than three units) and to narrow the geographical area to structures between the mountains and rivers bordering town, the council voted to remove 32 properties.
The council also voted to allow property owners an additional 30 days of negotiating with city officials, if needed. Building and demolition permits will go through the system concurrently with the negotiating process.
Dozens of property owners criticized the council for setting too high of a standard to start the negotiating process, since drafting plans for building and demolition permits are costly and time intensive.
“You need a smaller standard for calling the question,” Aspen resident Mike Maple told council members. “This continues to be a difficult and expensive process for these people.”
Jack Wilke, a homeowner in the West End neighborhood, questioned the basis for the list in the first place.
“You put me on a list that’s different from everybody else,” he said. “I think this whole business is wrong and focused on too few people and lacks criteria.”
The ordinance is only temporary; a new one will be created once a citizen task force is convened and a community-wide discussion takes place on the direction of the city’s historic preservation program.
Property owners of buildings 30 to 40 years old will receive a one-year certificate at the close of the public process, when a new ordinance is passed. That certificate will state that the property owner can do whatever he or she wants as long as it falls within the land-use code.
The decision comes after five months of public debate over the City Council’s controversial emergency ordinance, called Ordinance 30. It was passed with no public input and immediately prohibited the demolition of buildings 30 years or older, which included about 2,000 properties.
Since then, several iterations of the historic preservation ordinance have been drafted, debated and scrapped.
Monday night’s vote was a compromise of sorts and a nod by elected officials that the process should involve those whom it affects.
The concessions contained in the modified ordinance led Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Steve Skadron, who have opposed all prior versions of the ordinance, to vote for approval of the latest incarnation.
“We’ve been pushing hard on making a fresh start and recognizing a series of mistakes,” Romero said. “I appreciate the effort and this puts it back in the hands of citizens.”