Aspen mayor not keen on West End proposal

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

While reviewing a proposal to renovate a West End home up for a voluntary landmark designation at a regular meeting of the Aspen City Council on Monday, Mayor Steve Skadron said he doesn’t embrace the project as warmly as does the Historic Preservation Commission, which gave the applicant 4-1 approval in early July.

The 9,231-square-foot lot, located at 301 Lake Ave., contains a single-family home designed and built by renowned architect Victor Lundy in 1972. The applicant, 301 Lake Ave. LLC — controlled by David Willens, an investor from Florida, and his associate Bill Baringer — is seeking development exemptions from the city. In exchange, the applicant would voluntarily participate in the city’s Aspen Modern program, which was created to protect historically significant structures built in the 20th century.

The house currently occupies 1,800 square feet. Expansion would mean a 5,000-square-foot structure, which is about 1,400 square feet more than what is allowed, according to Amy Simon, historic preservation officer for the city. The height of the existing structure is 23 feet, 4 inches, and the height of the addition is just over 15 feet. The limit for new construction is 25 feet. The applicant also has requested city assistance with $200,000 in permit fees associated with the project.

The property owner has the option to forgo landmark designation, demolish the structure and replace it with a new single-family home, a split lot or a duplex.

Skadron said he needed to address a trend in Aspen where applicants are asking for the “largest possible waiver of fees.”

“I’m not embracing this as warmly as (the Historic Preservation Commission) did,” Skadron said. “My general feeling is that I don’t think the community’s interest is being served if we establish a negotiation threshold as defined by what is asked here. I think these preservation incentives are excessive, punitive, and I think they’re one-sided as I’m reading them now.”

The proposal fails to achieve the goal of contributing to the historic heritage of the West End, the mayor added, calling it aggressive and not sensitive enough in addressing the current character of the entire property.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said it can’t be argued that the historic designation of the building is important, given Lundy’s line of work.

“I hope, whatever we do, we can negotiate something that keeps the building in place restored,” she said, adding that it’s “quite a package” of requests from the applicant.

As this was a first reading for the council, no official vote was taken. That is expected on Aug. 25, when a second reading and public hearing is scheduled.

At the request of Martin Block, a neighbor who has spoken out against the project, the council will conduct a second site visit before the August hearing.

Simon pointed out that Lundy, who sold the property to Willens for $5.7 million in May, has two properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which “is unheard of” for a living architect.

“This is an absolutely voluntary process,” Simon said of Willens’ intent to participate in the program. “I think it’s appreciated that they’re here talking about a designation option because they certainly have other things they could do with this site that would be quicker scenarios, easier to process and maybe in the end a product that’s more, generally, marketable than this one, which is going to have a unique audience.”