City OKs historic preservation measure

John ColsonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN In the face of considerable public opposition, the Aspen City Council on Tuesday approved, on a 4-1 vote, an emergency ordinance to prevent demolition or major alteration of any building 30 years old or more.The sole dissenting vote came from Councilman Dwayne Romero, who said he supported the concept behind the regulation but objected to certain provisions. The rest of the council overruled his proposed changes.The ordinance sets up a process whereby any property owner in the city who applies for a demolition permit, or a building permit for exterior alterations, must first submit to a review by Community Development Director Chris Bendon to determine if the building has “historic merit.”If Bendon rules that it does have historic merit, beginning with determining whether it is 30 years or older, the property will then go through a historic designation review and, if designated, be subject to the city’s historic preservation laws.The council directed Bendon to create a community database in the coming months that would allow a property owner, or anyone seeking information, to check whether a property has been designated as historic or is under consideration for the designation.”It is not a moratorium,” Mayor Mick Ireland declared at Tuesday’s work session. “It is a demolition review” that could lead to historic designation for certain properties.Historic planner Amy Guthrie said at one point that the new law is necessary to protect certain structures that have historic significance.The new regulation supersedes earlier codes that set the age for historic designation at 40 years, and was based on studies by city planners showing that, of the roughly 2,000 structures built in the city between 1950 and today, approximately 100 could qualify as historic for one reason or another.The study also found that, since the year 2000, out of those 100 homes, 13 have been demolished and approximately 65 are not protected from demolition. The remaining buildings, roughly 20 percent, have been designated as formal historic landmarks.Guthrie, along with Bendon, warned the City Council at a work session Tuesday that if the emergency ordinance did not pass, there would be what council member Steve Skadron called “a flood of applications” to demolish houses of the vintage in question.Community activist Les Holst, supporting the ordinance, told the council that the city’s stock of older buildings, smaller than many newer homes and reflecting styles dating back decades, are important to the town’s sense of community.”You’ve got to do something,” he cautioned, “because we’re losing the town; you’re going in the right direction.”A number of residents appeared to object to passage of the ordinance for a variety of reasons, ranging from concerns about the ability to upgrade a home for increased energy efficiency to worries that the new law will reduce property values for some homes.”There is hundreds of millions in value you’re preparing to destroy,” cautioned local homeowner Alec Merriam.Local development consultant Mitch Haas, a former city planner, said the basic idea of the new regulations is “a good one” but argued that it has not been fully thought out.”I think 30 years is simply too young,” he said, adding half-jokingly, “a person just gets to the end of their mortgage, and all of a sudden they’re historic.”A number of opponents decried the new ordinance as running counter to the city’s Canary Initiative, a series of regulations aimed at improving local energy efficiency, because it would prevent homeowners of ’60s- and ’70s-era properties from remodeling to make their homes less wasteful.”I don’t buy that argument,” declared Councilman Jack Johnson. He and others argued that century-old historic homes are remodeled to increase energy efficiency, and more recently built homes can get the same treatment. A minority of those in the audience supported the ordinance, such as longtime local Jon Busch, who said proudly that he lives in a ’70s-era doublewide trailer. He argued that there have already been two highly publicized examples of postwar buildings that should have been preserved but were not.There was the house on North First Street, where Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, the founders of Aspen’s renaissance in the 1940s, lived. The structure was essentially gutted and modernized despite its iconic status as “a home where world leaders attended dinners” over the years, Busch said.Ireland also mentioned the Paepcke house as an example of one that “would still stand” in its historic condition if there had been a law such as the emergency ordinance on the books a decade ago.A number of details remain, and the council directed city staff members to draft some minor changes to the language of the new regulation.