City will try to spice up perks for historic label |

City will try to spice up perks for historic label

Janet Urquhart

Perks for property owners whose buildings are tagged with Aspen’s historical designation may make the preservation program more palatable to the people it affects, according to the city’s historic preservation officer.

A proposal to add 53 homes and commercial buildings to Aspen’s list of historic properties fueled an uproar this month, as property owners balked at seeing their buildings saddled with the restrictions that come with a designation that can be applied without their consent.

Review proceedings have been suspended, pending a discussion of the process by the Aspen City Council. The council is tentatively scheduled to meet on the matter on Oct. 4.

Among the topics likely to receive some discussion are perks for the owners of historic properties. Such a move had already been under consideration when the council halted the Historic Preservation Commission’s deliberations on expanding Aspen’s inventory of historic buildings.

The city already offers some valuable incentives to property owners who seek out historic-landmark status for their buildings, said Amy Guthrie, historic preservation officer. The problem, she said, is properties that are simply listed on the inventory but haven’t received landmark status are subject to preservation regulations but don’t qualify for the perks.

There are currently 259 properties on the city’s historic inventory; 149 are further listed as historic landmarks – a designation the property owner typically pursues if their building meets the criteria.

Owners of landmarks may get certain breaks on the city’s land-use rules, like variances on setbacks if they want to expand a home, the ability to build a second home on a smaller lot than the code typically allows and a floor-area bonus for additions, according to Guthrie.

The owners of commercial landmark buildings enjoy an exemption from the city’s growth-control regulations and breaks on affordable housing and parking requirements.

The city also gives a $2,000 grant to each property owner who designates their building as an historic landmark. In addition, a 20-percent state income tax credit is available for restoration work.

Though only landmark buildings are eligible for the perks, all of the properties on the city’s historic inventory are subject to HPC review for virtually all exterior changes, said Guthrie. “They have the burden, but not the benefits,” she said.

The city has been exploring ways to give some perks to all listed properties, Guthrie said.

“We want everyone who is on the list to have the same bonuses and the same incentives to create an historic building,” she said. “There’s no reason to have this extra hoop, and we want to get rid of it.”

Giving every property owner the $2,000 grant, however, may not be financially feasible, Guthrie added. “If we open the incentives to everybody, we’re going to have to rethink that situation,” she said.

None of the perks presently offered to historic landmarks are guaranteed, Guthrie said. Proposed additions, and what variances will be allowed, are considered on a case-by-case basis.

The city may want to institute some perks that are guaranteed with the listing of a building on the historic inventory, she said.

“There may be some level of things that we agree are a sure thing, like some small floor-area bonus that could be guaranteed,” Guthrie said. “We need to think about some ways we can be creative so people know certain things will be awarded to them.”

Whether such incentives will have property owners jumping at the chance to see their buildings listed remains to be seen, Guthrie admitted.

“I honestly don’t know – I think it will help,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s enough to convince people that they want to volunteer for the program. That’s a concern to me.”

The city also needs to be careful with the incentives it offers, she said, to make sure generous offers of extra floor space, for example, don’t compromise the integrity of historic structures.

“We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot with too big an addition or whatever,” Guthrie said.

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