City-owned home now historic
ASPEN The third time’s a charm for Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission.After two attempts to designate a chalet-style home at 312 W. Hyman Ave. as historic, the HPC found success Monday night when the City Council voted 3-2 to make the building a landmark.The city bought the home for $3.5 million from longtime owner Jordie Gerberg, intending to use it for affordable housing. The city closed on the property earlier Monday.Mayor Helen Klanderud and Councilman Torre opposed the designation for different reasons. Torre wanted to know more about city staff’s concerns about the integrity of the building, and he noted that since the city now owns the property, there’s no pressing need to designate the building as historic.Klanderud, however, had concerns about how the city came into possession of the home. Before the city bought the property, it had attempted to designate the house as historic against Gerberg’s wishes, a process that troubles Klanderud.At one time, Gerberg had a contract on the home for the same amount. But in doing his “due diligence” with the city, the prospective buyer learned the home could be designated historic and backed out, Gerberg said.”The city scared that buyer away trying to make it historical,” Gerberg said after the meeting, adding that he would have fought the designation if the city had not bought the property for the same amount. Klanderud said she would be less bothered had Gerberg had approached the city voluntarily to designate the home as historic. But the broader issue of forced designation troubled her because of the uncertainty it creates for homeowners. “This whole thing is beginning to frighten me, because I’m not sure where it stops,” she said. “The net seems to be getting bigger, and I am concerned about that.”Klanderud also feared this case could set a precedent for the city to buy property that private owners don’t voluntarily agree to designate as historic.Councilwoman Jasmine Tygre agreed with some of Klanderud’s concerns about involuntary designations. But she sided with councilmen Jack Johnson and J.E. DeVilbiss in finding that the home’s architecture and the original owner’s family history in Aspen make it historically significant.Genevieve Birlauf Leininger paid $500 for the lot in 1947 after reading an article about Aspen in Time magazine. Leininger’s father, who emigrated from Switzerland, helped her build the house between 1954 and 1956. Leininger herself had spent a lot of time in Europe, influencing her decision to mimic a Swiss chalet when she built the two-story home. Around the same time, Aspen saw a number of other Aspen homes built in the same style. But according to Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie, only about a dozen such homes remain, which is one of the reasons the HPC sought the historic designation.The city’s current plan, as yet unapproved, is to use the chalet as two affordable housing units and to build another two deed-restricted units on the property, as permitted under the city’s codes.Is affordable too costly?Neighbor Michael Behrendt questioned both the historic significance of the home and the city’s decision to pay what he called the “preposterous price” for it, making the affordable housing subsidy too large.But after the meeting, City Manager Steve Barwick defended the purchase, saying that’s just the cost of buying property in Aspen anymore. About a decade ago, the city bought the entire Burlingame Ranch parcel for roughly the same amount of money. The average subsidy for those units is between $53,000 and $311,000.But as the cost of real estate in Aspen continues to rise, so will the cost of subsidizing affordable housing, Barwick said. “We’re in the process of redefining what subsidies look like” because of the market, he said.Assistant City Manager Bentley Henderson noted that a vacant lot in the city’s West End carries the same asking price, so the city will have to pony up that kind of cash to buy any new land for affordable housing.One of the advantages of designating the chalet historic is that the city can then sell the equivalent of roughly 2,000 square feet of transferable development rights from the property. Henderson said the city could sell as many as eight TDRs at an estimated $200,000 each, although the City Council has made no decision on how many, if any, TDRs to sell.Abigail Eagye’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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