City Hall to decide fate of old buildings |

City Hall to decide fate of old buildings

ASPEN Three city staff members explained to worried property owners Friday that their homes will fall under City Hall review when determining the validity of a historic designation.About 20 residents showed up for a question-and-answer session regarding Ordinance No. 30, which prevents the demolition or alteration of any building more than 30 years old. Those property owners now have to submit to a review of whether their home or commercial building is historically significant. City Council passed the ordinance earlier this month as an emergency. Officials justified the move, saying development pressures in Aspen show that many historic structures from the post-World War II era are being demolished at a rapid rate.Specific examples of potentially historic buildings that have been torn down include a chalet across from Paepcke Park and side-by-side housing facing the Benedict Music Tent, designed by Fritz Benedict, one of Aspen’s celebrated residents during the ski resort’s beginnings.Marilyn Marks, a property owner in the West End, asked via e-mail what constitutes an “emergency.””We’re not here to defend or discuss the council’s actions,” said Community Development Director Chris Bendon, reminding people that the purpose of the meeting was to “bring them up to speed on the ordinance” and to explain the process in which to apply for a historic review. No council member was present during the meeting.Several people wondered how city staff, as well as elected and appointed officials, would interpret the ordinance’s criteria because it’s written arbitrarily. The ordinance states that a property may be historic if a person or an event, pattern or trend related to it has made a significant contribution to Aspen’s history.”At some level it requires a judgment call,” Bendon said. “There are decisions that the council will make that are not black and white.”Amy Guthrie, Aspen’s historical preservation officer, pointed out that the review process also includes a scoring system so that if several major alterations have been made to a property it might not be historically significant, despite who lived there or what happened there.City staff plans to survey all 2,400 parcels and create a database in the coming months that would allow a property owner, or anyone seeking information, to check whether a property has been designated historic or is under consideration for the designation.But in the meantime, city staff is waiting for property owners to apply for the historic designation review if they want to alter the exterior.”We’re sitting back and waiting for the property owner to initiate the discussion,” Guthrie said. “We don’t need to talk unless you need to do something with your property.”No alterations can be made to a property until Bendon and Guthrie determine its historical significance based on the ordinance’s criteria. If it is deemed historic, the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council have seven days to object. A property owner can appeal the decision. If the appeal is denied, the next step for a property owner is at district court, in the form of a lawsuit.If there is no objection or the property doesn’t meet the criteria, then a certificate states that the building has no historic value. That certificate lasts five years, and the City Council can’t pursue the matter during that time.Before obtaining a demolition or building permit, property owners must fill out an application that includes proof of ownership, a site plan, photos of all sides of the buildings on the property and the dates of construction on those buildings. Bendon has 30 days to review and respond.Bendon said 11 of the 14 submissions so far have been determined not have any historical significance.In response to another question, Bendon said it takes 24 weeks to get a building permit for a complex project, such as a single-family home. A simple permit, which would allow for a renovation, currently takes seven weeks. An additional staff member has been hired in the building department, and Bendon expects the approval process to be shortened as a result.Marks also asked what constitutes an alteration. “The best thing to do is call and ask us,” Bendon said. Property manager Chuck Frias wondered if interior alterations were OK. Bendon said they were OK in private residences. But since the City Council put a moratorium on interior renovations in historic buildings within commercial core, anything older than 30 years is now subject to review.City officials will rely on prior building permits to determine how old a building is. If records are spotty, they will turn to the county assessor’s office.Homeowner Tony DiLuca expressed concern because he’s considering selling his property and wonders whether he should apply for the review or wait.Bendon empathized with his situation.”There’s a lot of anxiety around this issue,” he said. “We are trying to make it as easy on a property owner as possible.”Several property owners plan to address elected officials on Monday about the ordinance during the public comment portion of the City Council meeting.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail is

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