City takes up new rules to preserve historic buildings |

City takes up new rules to preserve historic buildings

John Colson

City officials are about to begin the long process of updating Aspen’s rules and regulations governing the development of historic properties.

Local historic preservationists have long agonized over perceived loopholes and gaps in the city’s laws in this area.

Ever-mounting development pressures have led to what some have seen as unacceptable levels of demolition, alterations and additions to a large number of Aspen’s stock of historic Victorian buildings.

But the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, as well as city staffers, have pointed out that these changes were in keeping with Aspen’s laws as they are presently written.

Last year, outrage over the demolition of the home of the late Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke crystallized what had been a general but vague sentiment in favor of making changes to the regulations. A subsequent historic preservation symposium convened at City Hall uncovered a number of areas where Aspen’s system of protecting “historic resources” was viewed as insufficient.

Tonight, the council will see the first of a series of proposed changes to local historic preservation guidelines that are largely outgrowths of that symposium.

Tonight’s review will be a formal public hearing, and Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie said Friday that she has received “a lot of calls” about the proposed changes, though most of the callers told her they would not be coming to tonight’s council meeting.

“I think a couple of people might be there, just to understand things a little better,” Guthrie said.

A rule change being discussed tonight would require that all buildings listed in the city’s historic inventory go through at least a two-step review process before the HPC.

Currently, the two-step process, which requires both a conceptual and a final review, applies only to those buildings that are registered as “historic landmarks” or located within an area known as an “historic district.”

Buildings that are known to be historic, and are listed on the inventory, but have not received landmark designation, currently are subject only to a relatively minimal review by the HPC, and that takes place at a single meeting. No public hearing is required, nor is notification of adjacent landowners.

In the past, if neighboring landowners had concerns about a development proposal for a building falling into this category, they often either missed the meeting or discovered at the meeting that the plans were too far along to allow for substantive changes.

Describing the impact of the proposed changes, Guthrie said Friday, “This way, the planning won’t have gotten too far to make changes” because the public hearing will take place early in the review process.

Under the proposed changes, there would be a formal public hearing at the conceptual review level on all such proposals.

According to Guthrie, there are now 260 properties listed in the historic inventory. Of those, 71 are located within historic districts and are subject to full review. Another 87 are outside those districts, but are designated as landmarks and thus also are subject to stringent review.

It is the remaining 102 “non-landmark” structures that would be most affected by the code change.

“The HPC feels strongly that all of the properties in the historic inventory should have equal protection and review,” Guthrie wrote in a memo to the City Council. “All projects with a scope beyond minor alterations should be reviewed in a two-step process; conceptual and final, with a public hearing at conceptual.”

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