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Aspen properties not subject to demolition moratorium

Aspen Times Staff Report

Twenty-four Aspen properties that may or may not be of historical significance will not be subject to a moratorium on demolition while the city decides whether or not they’re worth saving.

The City Council voted 3-1 Monday to reject extending the moratorium another four months while it looks into whether the buildings belong on its list of protected historic properties. They were nominated for the list as outstanding examples of post-World War II architecture.

The proposed designation, however, angered many property owners, and three of them took the opportunity to seek demolition permits after the first moratorium expired but before the council had a chance to extend it last night.

“It’s somewhat ironic that in trying to prevent demolition, we’ve precipitated demolition,” said Councilman Jim Markalunas, who cast the only vote to extend the freeze on demolitions.

The owners of a chalet-style house at 413 W. Hopkins Ave., two cabins on Walnut Avenue and a home at 707 W. North St. where local ski pioneer Fred Iselin and his wife, Elli, once resided have obtained demolition permits. That doesn’t mean, however, that they must follow through and raze their buildings.

Two members of Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission urged the council to extend the moratorium, but council members balked, voicing the need to create the sense of a fresh start for all concerned.

The HPC began hearings in September on 53 properties nominated for inclusion on the city’s inventory of historic properties. Affected property owners came out in force to object. Many were outraged that the designation could be applied without their consent and that the HPC was considering buildings that are less than 50 years old – a departure from past practice.

Three HPC members, also upset with the process, resigned.

Some property owners argued their buildings aren’t historically significant, and Councilman Tony Hershey agreed.

“Because Walter Paepcke brushed up against it, it is not historic,” he said, referring to the man behind Aspen’s rebirth as a resort.

Property owners rightly fear the “onerous” restrictions that come with being listed, especially since their properties may be their biggest asset, he added.

“I think what we’re seeing here is a reaction by the citizens to what looks like some bureaucratic arrogance on our part,” agreed Councilman Tom McCabe. “We’ve certainly scared to death a lot of people.”

The process was also flawed with the perception of impropriety, noted Hershey, because HPC chairwoman Suzannah Reid stepped down from her role with the commission to act as the paid consultant who compiled the list of nominations.

The process needs to begin anew with an outside consultant, he said.

The city has suspended the HPC proceedings and is now seeking that consultant.

Mayor Rachel Richards suggested that without a new moratorium, staff members will be pushed to move quickly with a new review of properties.

Richards said she would consider a demolition moratorium on a much shorter list of the most important properties if necessary.

“My hope is this is the first step to getting us back to the right process,” she said. “I want to get rid of the overall cloud so we can get a fresh start on this issue.”

The council has already continued a demolition moratorium for nominated structures that are more than 50 years old. In all, 53 properties were initially recommended for inclusion; 13 were tossed out by the HPC and the council, leaving 40 still in question.

Four of those can be demolished as soon as the requested permits are issued.


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