Aspen council still weighing demolition of Little Annie’s
November 3, 2011
ASPEN – Little Annie’s won’t be demolished – yet.
The building that houses the local eatery was given at least a temporary stay of execution Wednesday after the Aspen City Council agreed it needed more information on whether the Historic Preservation Commission, or HPC, abused its discretion in approving demolition of the building.
“I think this is an important stewardship opportunity,” Councilman Steve Skadron said during a three-plus hour hearing on the matter and a related decision on the adjacent Benton building. “There is something more important here than what is and isn’t listed as historic; there is real value in the Little Annie’s building.”
In short, the HPC in September approved an application for demolition of the Hyman Avenue building put forth by Aspen Cove Ventures LLC, which led the council to call up the decision for review. In Wednesday’s special meeting, the council appeared split on whether to overturn the commission’s decision; ultimately, council members decided to continue the discussion until they had more information.
At the crux of the matter is whether the HPC, in voting 5-1 in favor of demolition, had considered all the criteria in making its decision.
“I’m not talking about preserving uses here. But I do believe the character we talk about, that we rely on, has to do with the streetscape,” noted Councilman Torre, referring to a specific point in the criteria related to a building’s role in the overall historic district. “The loss of this building would adversely affect this.
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“What attracts people to Aspen is the city’s character and charm. This building – and the Benton building – are part of that.”
Councilman Adam Frisch agreed in theory, but was reluctant to overturn the HPC ruling.
“I am sympathetic to what you’re saying, and I think we’re cutting it close to the bone when it comes to allowing buildings to be torn down,” he said. “But I’m not sure I can support reversing the decision based on the legalities.”
Mayor Mick Ireland then asked whether a more in-depth look at how the HPC arrived at its decision was warranted. Thus, a transcript and full record of the proceedings was requested and a continuation of the discussion set for Nov. 28.
“I would say, given what we’ve read, that that HPC abused its discretion in that it didn’t think about the building’s relation to the district as a whole,” he said. “But we need to look at that.”
Prior to discussing the fate of the Little Annie’s building, the council debated the future of the adjacent artist studio that was once occupied by the late Tom Benton.
In this instance, the HPC also reviewed an application for demolition (Aspen Cove Ventures has proposed replacing the two buildings and a vacant lot at the corner of Hyman and Hunter with a 31,000-square-foot mixed-use building). Its decision differed, however, with the commission voting not to allow demolition because of the building’s historical significance.
“It tells a story, it reflects the past, it makes a strong statement,” Skadron said Wednesday in supporting the HPC’s decision, and in reference to Benton’s ties to the town.
Aspen Cove Ventures appealed that decision, citing among other things the fact that the city did not seek historic designation of the building due to the numerous modifications it’s undergone. City staffers said its ties to Benton were what made it historic, not necessarily its current facade.
Not everyone agreed: “We have paid tribute to Benton in other places,” Councilman Derek Johnson said. “So what about creating the ability and space for the next Tom Benton in this community?”
Both decisions were prefaced by a discussion – and executive session – about whether the HPC had jurisdiction to review the demolition of the buildings in question. Neither is found on the city’s designated list of historic landmarks, though they are within Commercial Core Historic District. The council voted 4-1, with Johnson dissenting, that the HPC was within its jurisdiction by virtue of the fact the buildings are within the downtown historic district.