Aspen historic preservation mired in controversy
October 9, 2009
ASPEN – After 18 months of work, 42 votes among six committees, tens of thousand dollars and more than 100 meetings, the citizen task force charged with plotting the future of the Aspen’s historic preservation program can’t come to a consensus – or so it appears.
The Aspen Historic Preservation Task Force held two public input sessions Thursday in an effort to glean information from residents before making recommendations to the City Council later this month.
But the task force doesn’t plan to give a recommendation on how to deal with Ordinance 48, which was the impetus for the group to convene. The ordinance, passed in late 2007, was a temporary fix to Ordinance 30, which prevented the demolition or alteration of any building more than 30 years old without a governmental review to determine its historic significance.
Ordinance 48 allows a property owner who has been identified by the city as having a potentially historic building to either agree or volunteer for historic designation, or pass on it and accept a 90-day delay period to process the permit to alter or demolish the building.
The council appointed every person who applied to serve on the task force, which attracted more than 30 individuals. Participation dwindled and the task force ended up having roughly 18 regular members.
And quite often task force members couldn’t agree on much. Preservationists dug their heels in and so did property rights activists. Nine were for preservation and nine were against it.
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The group imploded during a meeting held earlier this week when one faction of the task force was finalizing its final report for the council. Another group submitted its own findings and recommendations, and one member submitted his own approach to the issue.
The result is a 76-page report that will be submitted to the council. The document has various opinions but no clear direction for elected officials.
City officials and task force members had hoped that there would be consensus by the end of the process but battling ideologies, political infighting, personal agendas and emotions won out, observers say.
Some people have claimed that certain task force members were hand-picked to further the city’s preservation goals and that there are blatant conflicts of interest as a result. Others claim property rights activists participated on the task force in an effort to stop all preservation efforts.
For some, the idea of government regulating what they can do with their properties goes against the fundamentals of American capitalism. Others believe preserving Aspen’s character is crucial.
The task force’s inability to come to a consensus also could be a consequence of having no clear direction from the council or city staff in what the scope of work was for the group.
The task force formed six different committees that tackled issues like architecture; establishing criteria for historical designation of properties; the economic ramifications of designation; government incentives; creating potential historic districts and voluntary versus involuntary designation.
There are dozens of recommendations made by the task force relating to those issues but few are with a clear majority.
The council will ultimately have to sift through the varying opinions of task force members, and make a final decision on the fate of Ordinance 48 and future changes to the historic preservation program.
“It was an exercise in complete futility,” said task force member Su Lum. “There was hope that we would come up with a plan … it was a pitiful waste of time.”
Meanwhile, dozens of home and building owners continue to worry about what the government could do to their property values if more regulation is placed on historic preservation.
Aspen homeowner Jerry Blumberg on Thursday asked task force members who support involuntary designation if they have been listening to property owners’ plight for the last two years.
“This is America, the land of free capitalism,” he said. “We don’t want government telling us what we can and cannot do with our property.”
The complicated issue might be summed up by comments made by Carol Blomquist, owner of Chateau Lisl. She told task force members that said she doesn’t appreciate the large, view-blocking homes surrounding her lodge. That could have been avoided had there been better regulations on mass and scale. However, she said she doesn’t want her lodge to fall under historic preservation regulations.
“I own a piece of property that will allow me to have an income,” she said. “We bought it to retire on … we will need to sell it or have a small lodge that we can do something with.”