Aspen OKs remodel of Crandall building
December 8, 2009
ASPEN – The Aspen City Council on Monday approved a remodel of the Crandall building, securing affordable commercial spaces for a dozen businesses and historically designating a significant property downtown.
The owners of the building, located at 630 E. Hyman Ave., which houses several local businesses, including Sandy’s Office Supply, got the go-ahead from the council to add a 2,500-square-foot free-market condo on the top of the 12,000-square-foot property.
In exchange, the owners and developers, Jane and Greg Hills, have voluntarily agreed to historically designate the building, designed by the late Tom Benton. Historical designation prevents the building from being demolished or altered.
The selling point for the council, which unanimously approved the proposal, is that the Hills plan to parcel out the building so its occupants – about 11 businesses – can buy their spaces at affordable prices.
Greg Hills told the council that the financing plan for the business owners pencils out so that their mortgages won’t be any more than what they are paying in rent currently.
Hills said 10 current tenants have expressed interest in buying their spaces; two have not and they will be rented to other locally serving businesses.
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A condition was placed on the approval that requires the Hills to sell whatever spaces the current tenants don’t want to local businesses.
Dozens of people, including current tenants, spoke in favor of the project. A few objected, saying that adding a condo changes the character of the historic building.
Dr. Mitchell, a pediatrician who has been operating in the building for 24 years, said he has spent $1 million in rent and has nothing to show for it. He asked for the opportunity to own his space, which he has been trying to purchase for 21 years.
Council members said preserving local businesses is key to the project.
“I appreciate you keeping it in the family,” Councilman Dwayne Romero told the Hills.
Mayor Mick Ireland said ordinarily he was “loathe” to approve any luxury developments because they don’t add to the vitality of town. But the project is an opportunity to reuse an existing structure and keep longtime businesses in Aspen.
Councilman Steve Skadron was skeptical that the spaces would remain affordable if current business owners decide to sell at a higher price in the future, and wanted assurances that wouldn’t happen.
Greg Hills said he has to trust that business owners won’t capitalize on their situation.
“I’m trying to do my own version of affordable commercial,” Hills said, adding that he trusts the character of the business owners with whom he’s working.
The approval makes the building the first commercial property voluntarily historically designated by its owner.
The process is part of Ordinance 48, which was passed by the council in late 2007. The ordinance is meant to be 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.
As part of the negotiations with the city, the Hills asked that $31,000 in development fees be waived. That request was dropped when it was made clear that the council wouldn’t support it.
Jack and Gesine Crandall earlier this year sold the building to the Hills for $4.8 million.
The Hills plan to refurbish the Crandall building, replace the mechanical and electrical systems, as well as the windows and reconfigure the primary staircase. An outdoor area with seating also would be added.
Hills said if a residential unit wasn’t allowed to be built, it wouldn’t be economically viable to keep the building intact.
The Hills’ company, Austin Lawrence Partners, recently restored three 1890s historic mining cabins known as the Conner Cabins on Hopkins Avenue and converted them into commercial office spaces.