A history lesson on Aspen’s history
October 28, 2007
ASPEN City officials will spend tens of thousands of dollars to capture the history of the city’s history.A $40,000 video project is intended to track and document Aspen’s historic preservation program and its future.The City Council on Monday is expected to approve a contract with Cinema Vertige LLC. The filmmaker won the contract over four other production companies. “Denver-based Cinema Vertige, LLC showed outstanding ability in narrative forms, artistic cinematography and innovative approaches to the interview-based documentary genre,” special projects planner Ben Gagnon wrote in a memo to the council.The intent is to create a balanced, journalistic documentary on the history of the city’s historic preservation program, which dates back to the 1970s, when Victorian homes and mining cabins were restricted.Filmmaker Alexandre Philippe is ready to begin shooting this week to take advantage of the fall weather and capture footage before the snowy season. The project is likely to take six months to complete.The video will serve as an educational tool and a method for inviting community discussion on the historic preservation program. It will be similar to a 2006 documentary titled “The Entrance to Aspen: How Did We Get Here?” which highlights the decades of controversy over four-laning Highway 82.The City Council approved the funding in August, in the wake of controversy surrounding an emergency ordinance it passed a month beforehand. The ordinance aimed to protect historically significant buildings, specifically those that are 30 years or older. The law passed with little public input, and it limits property owners from altering their buildings without a review to determine if they are historic.The cost of the video is part of $206,000 in expenditures to allow the public to be part of the process, which was not initially done.As a result, property owners had no notice of the new law, which generated fear, anger and anxiety in Aspen.City planners said that an alarming number of homes from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were being bulldozed during the city’s ongoing development boom, and the City Council decided to act to save those that are worth saving.But some homeowners have argued that the council acted without sufficient notice to affected property owners and that the new law is a direct hit on their property values.The City Council has agreed to establish a “blue ribbon committee” comprising a specialized historic preservation consultant, local property owners, real estate professionals, elected officials and city staff to study the economic impacts of historic preservation. Staff estimates that study to cost $25,000.A second committee will review a revamped historic preservation ordinance and specifically review the criteria and evaluation tools used for landmark designation. That includes creating what officials call a “context paper” that describes the types of architecture from various time periods and their local importance. It’s likely that the city’s scoring system, landmark criteria and design guidelines will need a revision – at an estimated cost of $55,000.Compiling a list of eligible properties for historic designation is estimated to cost $20,000. The first phase of creating that list is analyzing the “easy” properties first, meaning that many properties likely will be rejected at the outset. The second phase is more labor-intensive and would require a consultant, which would cost $96,000 for research and further investigation of particular properties.The final cost is $10,000 for a “public defender” whom City Hall would retain to assist and advise property owners. However, city staff thinks that the majority of property owners will postpone going through the designation process until changes are made to the ordinance so that expenditure won’t be necessary until next year.Property owners are working with city staff on a revised ordinance, which would make it more difficult to landmark a property and gives the landowner more power in the process. A public hearing on the new law is scheduled for Nov. 12.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.