Aspen cemetery hoping to get a life
ASPEN ” Worried that that a 3,000-square-foot caretaker and maintenance facility would compromise the integrity of the Red Butte Cemetery in Aspen, some neighbors are fighting the proposal.
The proposal had its first public hearing Wednesday before the Historic Preservation Commission, which will continue its review in February.
Some Cemetery Lane neighbors said a residence is inappropriate on the 17-acre property, which was historically landmarked in the 1990s. Having a family live in the graveyard will generate traffic and compromise the tranquil setting, some residents argue.
The L-shaped building would include a 1,125-square-foot, three-bay garage and shop, as well as a 1,425-square-foot, two-bedroom caretaker unit. There also would be a 330-square-foot office.
The building would be located on an empty field on the north side of the property, set several hundred feet away from area homes and the developed portion of the cemetery.
The applicant, the Red Butte Cemetery Association, a nonprofit organization that has owned the cemetery since 1899, wants a new facility because the current Victorian-era cabin located in the southeastern portion of the property is not sufficient.
The cemetery also lacks an adequate facility to store equipment required to maintain the property. Currently, a Quonset tent is set up on the northern portion of the cemetery and is considered to be an eyesore by some.
John Thorpe, president of the volunteer-based association’s board of directors, said properly maintaining the cemetery is crucial to preserving its history and a new facility with a full-time caretaker is needed to carry that out.
“Our ends and purposes are exactly the same,” Thorpe told the HPC, adding that his grandparents, parents and siblings are buried at Red Butte Cemetery.
The developed portion of the cemetery has 4,200 burial sites, of which about 1,400 are unused. In recent years, the graveyard has seen between 10 and 15 burials a year.
The cemetery’s operation requires many vehicles on site, including a pick-up truck, skid loader, four-wheeler and trailer, a large riding mower, weed eaters and various hand tools.
And because there is so much upkeep at the cemetery, the association wants a full-time caretaker living on the property. While it’s not a full-time job, a caretaker must be available 24/7 and that requires a dedicated, reliable employee, the association argues.
“A two-bedroom unit is proposed to attract a stable employee and not simply a person who wants a job and studio for a season or two,” wrote the project’s planner, Alan Richman.
City staff agrees that the association has inadequate operational facilities. There currently are 2,800 graves and more than 200 large cottonwood trees that need routine maintenance. But city staffers don’t recommend approving the current design or location. Instead, the proposal needs further study.
“Staff believes that the new building will be prominent on the site and may seem rather out of context in terms of its size, contemporary design and exposure,” wrote City Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie in a memo to the HPC.
Under the proposal, the Victorian cabin, which is used for record keeping and a meeting place, would be preserved in its current location and be used in the future for visitor information. An adjacent outhouse also would be preserved but relocated.
The association intends to file a follow-up application addressing the land-use elements of the project, which would include rezoning the property.
While it’s not the job of the HPC to determine uses on the site, it is charged with determining the impact to the historic nature of the property as a result of development. The proposal will be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council, which will consider the land-use elements of the proposal.
Guthrie has received a dozen letters from neighbors opposed to the project. A few others showed up at the HPC’s meeting Wednesday, some in favor and some against the proposal.
Howie Mallory, who lives on nearby Snowbunny Lane, said it’s the HPC’s responsibility to protect the historic condition of the cemetery and that doesn’t involve building a residential structure there.
Jesse Boyce, a board member of the city and county open space board, said a new maintenance facility and caretaker unit is inappropriate on the property.
“The cemetery has been there for 100 years and we’ve gotten this far,” he said of not having a permanent maintenance facility.
Another neighbor, however, said he thinks most people won’t even know the building is there because it would be located in the back of the cemetery in an open field.
“I don’t see anything wrong with giving the caretaker a bigger place to live and putting a roof over the equipment,” John Callahan said.
Association board members said it is a privately owned property ” not a park and not open space ” and therefore, the proposal should be considered equally with other development applications.
HPC members agreed that it would be best to review the maintenance facility and the residential unit separately. It also has been suggested that the building be broken up into more than one piece.
The question in front of HPC members is whether allowing a structure to be built will ruin the integrity and history of the property.
City staff will come back to the HPC with more information on why the cemetery was historically landmarked and how other communities develop and maintain their cemeteries.
HPC member Sarah Broughton noted that some of the most beautiful cemeteries and outdoor museums have maintenance facilities on site. Still, it’s a daunting question locally of whether to develop Red Butte Cemetery.
“It’s hard because we are being asked to accept change,” she said.
The cemetery is more than 100 years old and is steeped in history, as many of Aspen’s pioneers are buried there. Sculptures, grave stones and mature trees line the property.
“It’s an outdoor museum,” Guthrie said. “It a great piece of our history.”
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