City reprimanded council candidate Guth over unapproved single-family home in 2020
Guth admits to infraction, says was proactive to fix it
City Council candidate Bill Guth was reprimanded by the city of Aspen in 2020 over an unauthorized conversion of a West End residential duplex into a single-family home, according to public records and a series of emails exchanged between Guth and city officials.
In both email and virtual interviews, he said he knowingly violated the duplex approvals but was carrying out the orders of the property owner, Ohio-based Garrett Gulch Equity Venture LLC.
Guth, who is a real-estate developer, broker, and investor, said he had no financial connections to the now-dissolved limited liability company. He described the person with the money behind Garrett Gulch as “very private.”
“We did make a mistake, we owned up to our mistake, and we fixed it,” Guth said Wednesday. “I don’t condone it, I don’t encourage it, I don’t support it, I don’t do it, I haven’t done it again, and I won’t do it again.”
Guth is running for one of two open seats on Aspen City Council in the March 7 municipal elections. His campaign platform has emphasized the need for a fresh voice from the business community on what has been called a progressive-minded council.
Guth, however, said the events from 2020 didn’t relate to his criticism of the City Council’s December 2021 moratorium on residential building activity and new applications for short-term rental licenses. He teamed up with developer Bob Bowden in 2022 on a petition aimed at having voters repeal City Council’s that moratorium and any new STR license applications. The two ultimately withdrew the petition effort.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more reasonable, appropriate approach for our community from the city. I think they were totally … they were doing their jobs, I don’t fault them for any aspect of it,” said Guth.
As a manager for the owner of 322-324 E. Bleeker Ave, he said he navigated the application and land-use process with the city for the proposed duplex development, which is across the street from Hotel Jerome’s back entrance.
“I handle the day-to-day oversight of development projects,” he said Wednesday. “Some projects I have ownership interest in, some of them I don’t, and this is one of the ones where I did not.”
The Aspen Historical Preservation Commission in 2015 granted approvals for a duplex at 322-324 E. Bleeker St. At the time, the parcel was undeveloped and was officially called Lot 2, which was created through the 202 N. Monarch Street Subdivision that won city approvals in 2006.
Lot 2 flanked the historic Blu Vic lot at 202 N. Monarch St, a property Guth once owned through his 202 Aspen LLC, also of Ohio, according to public records.
Because the 6,031-square-foot Lot 2 was subdivided from the 202 N. Monarch Street Subdivision, it came with a historic landmark overlay. That meant the HPC was charged with reviewing the design and plans for the duplex proposal.
Lot 2 also was in a mixed-use zone, which at the time permitted the development of free-market, single-family homes and duplexes.
The lot’s size of just over 6,000 square feet shrunk to 5,321 square feet using a city formula that reduces the floor area on a property with difficult grade conditions. That was the case with 322-324 E. Bleeker, according to city Planning Director Amy Simon.
If developers had chosen to build a single-family home rather than a duplex, the 5,321-square-foot lot would have allowed for a single-family home with a maximum floor area of 2,440 square feet, as opposed to maximum floor area of 2,716 square feet for a duplex, according to Simon’s calculations based on mixed-use zoning regulations at the time.
“One of the issues we cited when the two units were made into one without permits is that the resulting 2,717-square-foot single family home was over the allowed maximum of 2,440 square feet for a single family home …” she said. “We required the opening that was created between what was two individual units to be filled, so that the development was a 2,717-square-foot duplex again, meeting dimensional requirements.”
City cites Guth for violation
After an August 2019 visit to the newly-completed duplex, the city issued separate certificates of occupancy that month — one for 322 E. Bleeker St. and one for 324 E. Bleeker St.
The project fell out of favor with the city when an official discovered during a July 2020 open-house visit that the walls dividing the duplex units had been altered to convert the property into a single-family home that not only lacked approvals or permits, but also exceeded the maximum allowable floor area allowed, if a single-family home had been approved on the lot, by 277 feet.
“At some point between the issuance of the (2019 certificates of occupancy) and July 10th, 2020, three doorways were cut into the walls separating 322 E. Bleeker from 324 E. Bleeker. One doorway was cut into the wall separating the unit’s garages from each other, one doorway was cut in on the main levels connecting the two units together, and a third doorway was cut in the basement wall separating the two units. There was no permit either requested or granted to cut through these three different walls,” said a Nov. 24, 2020, email from Simon, written on behalf of Phillip Supino, the director of community development, to Guth.
After learning the walls had been breached, the city on July 10, 2020, issued Guth a notice of violation demanding that the residence return to compliance with its approvals and permits. The property also was being marketed for sale at the time.
“It has come to the attention of the City of Aspen Community Development Department that the structure located at 322/324 E. Bleeker, approved as a duplex, has been altered to function as a single-family dwelling. Specifically, the representations made on various websites indicate that the duplex is being sold as a single-family residence,” said the notice written by Supino. “The City’s land use code (LUC) defines a duplex as a residential building comprised of two attached dwelling units with a common unpierced wall. The modifications made to the property by combining the dwelling units is a violation of the property’s land use approvals, granted by the Historic Preservation Commission in 2015 and the subsequent permits that were issued.”
The city did not fine or penalize Guth, and Garrett Gulch sold the property, which had a $20 million listing price, for $15 million after it was claimed at auction in July. The buyer, New York-based Ajax/Comet LLC, was not responsible for converting the property back to a duplex. Guth said he and the previous owner bore the responsibility to fix the problem.
The infraction was not being brushed aside by the city, as noted by a July 24-dated email from city Senior Planner Kevin Rayes to Guth indicating the contractor responsible for the compromised duplex walls could face repercussions.
“We will need the contact information of the contractor who completed the work that was done without a permit. The City will likely pursue suspension of this individual’s license,” Rayes wrote.
Guth, in an Aug. 17-dated email, said: “I cannot provide a contractor signature for the ‘wall removal’ work already completed. There was no local licensed contractor involved. This work was done by an Ohio crew that came in for a week to do the work and stayed at the house.”
Four days later, Guth emailed the city the name and contact information for the contractor that did the work.
The city’s main demand was that he bring the project back into compliance by converting it back to its original duplex form, which is what he and his associate from Garrett Gulch did, he said.
“I am not trying to minimize the issue,” he said. “We assumed responsibility, and we were extremely proactive in trying to correct it without any sort of technique to avoid responsibility or minimize the issue. We made an error. We got caught for that error. I think we have experienced financial and chronological impacts as a result of that, and the lesson is learned. I think the good that I have done in this community and for this community far outweighs that minor incident.”
A statement the city issued last week confirmed Guth remedied the problem: “The city of Aspen can confirm that the Community Development Department engaged in an enforcement action with Bill Guth, the developer of 322/324 Bleeker St. while Mr. Guth was the owner of the property. Following the action by the City, the property was brought into compliance with its approvals and the Land Use Code. The city has no position on the matter and has no further comment.”
While the city identified Guth as the owner of the property, Guth maintained that was not true.
“I was not the owner; I was the manager and authorized representative,” he said. “I can’t explain why the city writes what they write. I didn’t tell them to write those things, but it wasn’t substantive enough to warrant correcting them.”
The city’s notice of violation included an exhibit of real-estate listings and auction websites that identified 322/24 E. Bleeker St. as a single-family home, marketing it for $20 million.
“It was never marketed as a single-family home,” Guth said in an email. “It was marketed as a duplex that one owner could own both sides of.”
He said he could not explain why the property was identified as a single-family residence in online marketing materials. Such real-estate websites as Zillow identified the property as a single-family home for sale.
“Zillow and these other syndicated websites are notoriously unreliable,” he said. “I think that Zillow is not to be relied upon. As brokers, we input things directly into the MLS (Multiple Listings Service) and not everything translates well. That being said, it may have been categorized as single-family, that may have been out of habit; I don’t recall intentionally doing one thing versus another. This listing was inputted many years ago, so I can’t recall the specific thought process, but I don’t recall being intentional about doing it one way versus another.”
According to online marketing by Stage Fine Homes, of which Guth’s Aspen International Properties is an affiliate, “This in-town home features 2 units that could be owned by the same owner and live like a single family. Views of Aspen Mountain and Hunter Creek. Combined units feature 5,764 square feet, 6+ bedrooms, 4+ car garage, gym/basketball, incredible yard and patios. Rooftop deck with incredible 360deg views. Limestone flooring runs inside and out for a seamless Indoor/Outdoor living experience. Handsome oversized black brick contrasts warm wood siding for an organic, gorgeous material palette. The finest finishes and materials, including Boffi kitchen and bathrooms! Core proximity living without the noise or hassle!”
Emails show Guth and Supino responding to the situation during some seemingly tense exchanges over how the property’s compromised walls would be restored to their original condition and back in compliance.
Supino, in a Nov. 23, 2020, email responding to Guth’s proposal for a “structurally acceptable” duplex separation to return it to compliance, said, “The property was approved as a duplex with specific representations and requirement for how the units were separated — concrete walls. When the walls were pierced, the property no longer complied with those requirements and approvals. In order to resolve the enforcement matter with Community Development, the walls need to be returned to their approved condition.”
Supino’s email said his department was willing to be flexible, “recognizing that it would be extremely challenging and disruptive to pour concrete in the otherwise completed structure. If you would like to go the CMU (concrete blocks) route, then please submit drawings to Building (department) showing that assembly. However, it is our view that a stick-framed solution will not meet the standard of returning the property to its approved condition.”
Guth replied on the same date, saying in part: “I know I did something wrong here, but am doing absolutely everything I can to make it right and be cooperative with you and your team. I don’t think others would behave quite the same. I’d really like to get this done and really believe that what I’ve proposed should be acceptable as it is widely accepted by your team in similar scenarios. I don’t believe there’s anything that says that houses must remain in their original, approved condition in perpetuity — as long as an alternate approved assembly takes the original’s place. I’d like to ask one more time for you to reconsider and allow us all to move forward from this in a reasonable manner — most importantly, one that’s less disturbing to the homeowners who have recently purchased and moved their family into this home. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve certainly learned my lesson — this has been a very challenging situation for me (I know, self inflicted).”
Guth’s email did not sit well with Supino, who responded, “I understand your desire to find an alternative solution to rectifying the illegal conversion of the duplex to a single family home. I also understand the difficulties arising from the subsequent purchase and occupancy of the property in its noncompliant state. But I fail to understand why the City ought to consider anything other (than) compliance with previous approvals and representations made by you throughout the approval and development process. You suggest that staff’s position on this is unreasonable. I have a very different view. The options available to you to remedy this situation are, in my view, quite reasonable. This is, after all, a violation of City development regulations which we take seriously. No fines have been assessed, other than building permit fee penalties, the extra floor area provided by developing as a duplex will remain, and you have been afforded generous time and staff support to rectify the situation. On the spectrum of possible consequences for this violation, our response falls firmly on the reasonable side.”
Guth’s replied on Nov. 25, saying in part, “Thank you for your words and continuing to work through this with me. I am sorry if there was an inference that any of you were being unreasonable — I didn’t mean that, and don’t believe that.”
Guth said the email exchange was a small slice that didn’t reflect what was an cooperative and constructive relationship between him and the city toward reaching a solution.
“This was not about the overall picture or their approach,” he said. “This was about, ‘What are we going to have to do to satisfy the city to bring things into compliance?’ I was not debating the circumstances. I was not trying to get out of doing something. This was was, ‘What are the specific technical details of how we’re putting it back together?’ … I was not implying they were being unreasonable. … We were under contract to sell this house, people had moved in, the house was fully furnished, and again, I’m not absolving myself of any responsibility, but it was a finished house and the first communications from the city are like, ‘You must restore exactly to the original condition,’ which would involve a lot of very messy construction work — steel and concrete work in a finished house, which is less than ideal. So I was trying in what I was hoping a was tactful approach but obviously rubbed Phil the wrong way, but I immediately apologized for that. I was trying to do something that I was hoping would be acceptable to the city but would also make a little bit more sense, given the finished house’s condition.”