City suspends HPC listing |

City suspends HPC listing

Janet Urquhart

Hearings on expanding the city’s list of historic properties have been suspended until the Aspen City Council can review the controversial process.

A packed room of property owners at the council’s informal lunchtime meeting Monday pressed the city to suspend its review of buildings that have been proposed for historic designation. The process is arbitrary and unfair, property owners contend.

The council agreed to review the process at an upcoming work session. A meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission that had been scheduled Wednesday to review historic designations for various lodges and chalet-style homes has been called off for now. The commission will meet, though, to elect a new vice-chairperson.

The proceedings have been halted in the wake of a pair of contentious meetings before the HPC last week at which property owners objected to the inclusion of their homes and businesses on the city’s historic inventory. Three members of the HPC, including its vice chairwoman, ultimately resigned over the city’s historical review procedures.

“It’s pretty clear the city’s customer-service standards have not been met during this process,” City Manager Steve Barwick conceded yesterday. “At this point, I think we need to slow this process down.”

The council, said Barwick, needs to address two underlying issues: Should inclusion on the city’s list of historic properties be voluntary, and should buildings that are less than 50 years old be eligible for consideration?

The city needs to listen to the affected parties, too, stressed property owners.

“You’ve operated without us being involved. It shows, and it hurts,” said Jack Simmons, co-owner of the Holland House Ski Lodge. “I don’t want to get rid of HPC, but I sure would like to be a part of it.”

City staffers proposed an additional 53 commercial buildings and private homes for inclusion on Aspen’s list of historic properties. There are already 259 properties on the list. Properties are subjected to HPC or staff review for virtually all exterior changes once they are listed – a process many property owners fear is onerous and compromises their right to do what they want with their buildings. They also fear the designation reduces the value of their property.

“It shouldn’t be the kiss of death, and it is the kiss of death,” said Yasmine dePagter, Holland House co-owner.

Buildings must either be 50 years old or be “outstanding” examples of a type of architecture to be eligible for historical designation.

At last week’s hearings, various property owners questioned the historical significance of their buildings. Many also complained that they received only a week’s notice that their property was up for consideration and objected to the city’s ability to list their property without their consent.

Michael Behrendt, owner of the St. Moritz Lodge, called the listing process “brutal, nasty, short, arbitrary and unreasonable.” He suggested the city make historical designations voluntary and offer incentives to property owners to list their buildings.

“We understand saving Aspen. Every one of these people has saved Aspen,” he said, nodding to fellow longtime property owners. “If it’s voluntary, it’ll work, and you’ll have all of our support.”

“I think people were just floored that we weren’t part of the process. . I think we’re screwing the old-timers in town with this process,” dePagter agreed.

The process of designating Aspen buildings as historic and in need of protection began in 1980 and has “never been a particularly pretty process,” said Mayor Rachel Richards. Nonetheless, she contended, it is what saved most of the remaining Victorian homes in town.

A voluntary process, she said, might not have been as successful. And, Richards pondered, if new additions to the list are made voluntarily, should properties already on the list be reconsidered and their owners allowed to volunteer them for inclusion?

“The character of the town has pretty much been created by the properties that have been preserved,” she added.

“These people are the character and the quality of Aspen,” countered Jackie Mastrangelo, whose husband co-owns a downtown building that had been proposed for the designation.

That building, along with the St. Moritz and 13 others, was eliminated from consideration by the HPC during last week’s hearings. The owners of those properties, however, fear that action was not the final word on the matter, and the fate of 40 other properties remains undecided.

The council agreed to schedule a special meeting, if necessary, to accommodate a work session on the listing process. Council members agreed they would like input from property owners and the HPC, including the three members who resigned – vice chairwoman Mary Hirsch, Heidi Friedland and Christy Ann Kienast.

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