City, residents overhaul historic regs
October 23, 2007
ASPEN – Homeowners fearful of government limiting them on what they can do with their property got little assurance Monday that city officials won’t deem their structures historic, arguably devaluing their investment and trampling on their rights.
Ever since July, when the City Council passed an emergency ordinance that prevents property owners from altering or demolishing buildings that are more than 30 years old without a review, city officials have been working to refine the law.
Collectively, city staff and residents have spent hundreds of hours fine-tuning Ordinance 30, which passed July 10. The latest incarnation is Ordinance 48, which the council reviewed Monday night in front of dozens of worried homeowners. The ordinance is scheduled for a public hearing on Nov. 12, when the council is expected to vote on it.
City staff has made significant changes to the proposed law, based primarily on feedback and the work of two residents ” Marilyn Marks and Mike Maple ” who got involved immediately after Ordinance 30 passed.
Ordinance 48 attempts to establish what the economic impact would be for a particular homeowner if his or her property was historically designated.
The City Council is mulling over a few different options in determining the economic impact of historical designations and will ultimately make a decision on one of them at the November meeting.
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One option is that property owners would have to prove that historic designation constitutes “a taking” of private property.
A second option is that the property owner can request the development and review of an economic impact report as part of the designation hearing before the City Council.
The third option is that the City Council establish a panel of three experts in related fields to determine the impact of historic designation on individual properties.
The proposed law stipulates the City Council establish a policy for reimbursing costs property owners incur as a result of an involuntary historic designation review.
Former mayor Bill Stirling, a real estate broker who owns an apartment that is on a list of about 90 potentially historic properties, said it’s absurd that the city would have to pay for an economic review for a private resident.
“Asking the city to compensate is absolutely bizarre,” he said, adding that when Victorian homes throughout the city were historically designated without property owners’ consent, it was for the greater good of the community. No other city legislation has prompted the city to compensate property owners, Stirling also pointed out.
Phil Verleger, an economist who owns a home in the West End, said compensation will end up in the form of judgments against the city as a result of lawsuits.
“You are going to be sued, and the town is going to be sued again and again,” he said. “That ultimately will come out of my pocket and the town’s budget.”
Mayor Mick Ireland suggested hiring a city staff member or contractor to review the historic designation and act as a public defender for property owners. As an attorney, Ireland recognizes that having lawyers represent homeowners could be costly, and he won’t support paying high fees.
City Councilman Dwayne Romero suggested that the city pay for an economic review up to a certain amount that hasn’t been hashed out.
Ordinance 48 also is designed to put more of the control of the historic designation review in the hands of the property owner.
As it stands now, Ordinance 30 requires that property owners on the list submit to a review to determine whether their structure is historically significant if they plan to apply for a building or demolition permit. If it’s deemed historic, property owners will be limited in what they can do to the building.
Ordinance 48 is aimed at allowing property owners to have more say in the process.
“We tried to create protections so that the owner is in control every step of the way,” Maple said, adding the new ordinance also aims to raise the standard and level of care by requiring the Historic Preservation Commission to have a super-majority vote ” five of seven members ” when it reviews a property.
Maple and Marks said they would prefer that no money be spent on the issue and instead, the historic designation program be voluntary through incentives to property owners.
Ordinance 48 is designed to serve as an interim law before a task force is established to further investigate the historic designation program and $200,000 of council-approved public funds are put toward the issue.
The council adopted Ordinance 30 with no official public notice, citing an emergency. Officials justified the move by saying development pressures in Aspen show that many historic structures from the post-World War II era are being demolished at a rapid rate.
Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com.