Aspen eyes multimillion-dollar house swap

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Michael Faas/The Aspen TimesThe city of Aspen may trade this West Hyman Avenue home for a nearby apartment building that it could redevelop into affordable housing.

ASPEN ” The decision to unload a city-owned house on Hyman Avenue was prompted by an offer that elected officials might not be able to refuse.

Peter Fornell, who represents his brother-in-law, John Cooper, approached government officials earlier this month with an offer to trade a four-plex apartment build­ing located at 301 West Hyman Ave. for the city’s chalet- style house down the street.

If the government was to make the swap with its 312 West Hyman Ave. home, city officials could redevelop Cooper’s property into affordable housing, as well as the three lots surrounding it since they also are owned by the public.

“The city of Aspen has an asset that they can’t really effectively use,” Fornell said. “We have a piece of property that they can use more effectively.”

City officials received much criticism and scrutiny from the community when it bought the 1,956-square-foot house in March 2007. The $3.5 million purchase was in direct response to the owner’s intent to sell it and have it demolished to make way for a new home.

The previous owner, Jordi Gerberg, and another tenant collectively pay the city $3,000 a month in rent to live there, according to City Manager Steve Barwick.

The two-story house was completed in 1956, and built by Genevieve Birlauf Leininger and her father. Once the city bought it, it was designated as historic, which prevents it from ever being torn down. Historic preservation officials note that the home’s architecture exemplifies the social and architectural history of Aspen as it began devel­oping as a ski resort.

“It’s a classic example of European chalet design,” said Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation officer. “Truly, it was an issue of preserving the building … [Gerberg] got what he needed, and it gave us the chance to preserve the building.”

Fornell said he and Cooper plan to add on to the existing structure. The building is a legal non-conforming duplex, with one unit and a garage on the ground level, and a second unit on the upper floor. The lot allows a maximum of 3,240 square feet.

“My plan will be to work with the [Historic Preservation Commission] to remodel the home in new condition and in its original style,” Fornell said. “We want to make something nice out of a historical property.”

Fornell said Cooper’s building was bought for $1.7 million and is of equal value ” if not more ” to the city’s property because of the affordable housing development oppor­tunities.

“I think it’s an interesting and lucrative approach for both of us,” he added.

Whether the city will bite remains to be seen. To be fair, the city has put out a request for proposals. Interested parties have until Jan. 21 to submit proposals that include either an offer to purchase or trade their property in exchange for the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.

“There’s no firm decision to sell it but we want to see all of our options,” Barwick said.

Real estate broker Greg Hunter, who handles property acquisitions for the city, has had the house listed for $3.5 million for the past few weeks. But a property trade appears to be more feasible than an outright sale, he added.

Guthrie said a citizen task force charged with finding new ways to preserve potentially historic buildings has discussed the possibility of the city buying other properties, designating them and then reselling them.

Because the West Hyman house is historically designated and there are large trees on the property, there are limitations to development. For instance, it’s unlikely that the house can be relocated, or that basement excavation can occur under it because of the trees.

There is potential for the developer to receive approval for more square footage than what’s allowed in the city’s code because of historic preservation incentives. Those interested in doing a deal with the city must submit a description of the property they want to trade, as well as details on any existing structures, limitations or enhancements of potential development of building affordable housing on the site. The proposal also should include pictures of the property, its structures and whether there are restrictions on them. Maps of easements and encroachments, as well as covenants, also are part of the city’s requirements.

Finalists may be asked to obtain and pay for a current appraisal of their property, and the city will do the same for its West Hyman Avenue property.

It’s the city’s intent to complete the transactions by the middle of next year.


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