City mulls cooling-off period for demolitions
Like a waiting period before a handgun purchase, Aspen property owners may face a “cooling-off period” when they apply to demolish a structure that might have historic value but isn’t on the city’s historic inventory.Aspen City Council members agreed Monday they’d like to consider a demolition delay ordinance for buildings of potential historic merit, but they balked at instituting a moratorium on the delisting of buildings that are already protected by a historic designation.Both the council and members of the Historic Preservation Commission, meeting in a joint session Monday, also agreed that the scoring method for judging a property’s historic significance needs tweaking.And, the council said it’s willing to explore the designation of properties as historic without the owner’s consent.”Absolutely yes,” said former Mayor Bill Stirling in encouraging the council to designate buildings as historic without the owner’s OK. “If you don’t do that, you’re going to be wishing that you had 20, 30 years down the road.”The council called for a new look at its historic preservation regulations following its recent decision to delist a West Francis Street Victorian after concluding modifications to the house had undermined its historic integrity. The criteria by which the house was judged left a majority of the council members feeling they had little choice but to take it off the city’s historic inventory, meaning it no longer has protection from demolition or further alteration. Other buildings on the inventory probably couldn’t meet the standard either, said Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation officer.The threshold is too high, council members complained. The current scoring system makes it difficult to preserve modified buildings and doesn’t take into account the potential to restore them to their original form. The city needs to be able to preserve some of the more marginal samples of its history, argued Councilwoman Rachel Richards.”I’d like to see some mediocre … not just stunning examples of what we have,” she said.The city’s historic preservation program has also come under fire from a citizens’ group calling itself the “White Shirts,” which wants to put the brakes on a current onslaught of redevelopment in town. The group has called for an end to historic lot splits – allowing a lot containing a historic structure to be split and another home built on the new lot – but council members expressed no interest in ending the practice.The group has also called for a six-month moratorium on building permits in historic areas and the commercial core, which is a historic district. It also wants the delisting of properties, once they’ve been deemed historic, to cease.”I would like not to see any delistings,” Richards concurred.”Just because something is old, it doesn’t necessarily make something good and worth preserving,” countered HPC member Derek Skalko.At present, buildings that are 40 years old or less cannot be designated as historic without the owner’s consent. The city has lost buildings of interest from that post-World War II era and could lose some more, Guthrie said.A demolition delay ordinance could force property owners who want to tear down a structure to wait a certain amount of time, perhaps six months, while the city works with them to encourage preservation if the structure is deemed worth saving.The downtown commercial buildings that are often the focus of redevelopment are not historic, and currently there is little incentive for an owner to keep such structures.”How can you tell someone who owns a huge piece of property in the center of downtown that they can’t demo it?” asked HPC member Alison Agley. “To what degree can we dictate to people the value of their property? I think that puts us in a hard spot sometimes.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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