Demolitions trigger emergency action

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The City Council tentatively passed an emergency ordinance late Monday night that would prevent the demolition of any building more than 30 years old without reviewing whether it’s historically significant.So any property owner considering tearing down an aging building might want to attend Tuesday’s City Council meeting, when elected officials are expected to officially pass the law.The ordinance stipulates that the city government would delay demolition permits if buildings were constructed during a specific time period. Such buildings would be automatically reviewed against a set of established criteria and city staff would make the decision on whether the building can come down.City officials consider the issue an emergency because the development pressures in Aspen show that many historic structures from the post-World War II era are being demolished at a rapid rate.”Whereas, in light of the ongoing demolition of buildings, structures or objects that may have historical significance for the city of Aspen, the negative impacts such loss may have on the health, peace, safety and the general well-being of the residents and visitors of Aspen, and the diminishment of Aspen’s unique architectural character, livability and attractiveness as a destination, urgent action is necessary …,” reads the ordinance.The Historic Preservation Commission would evaluate the demolition application in a public hearing with the property owner, parties of interest and citizens to determine if the building is eligible for designation, according to the ordinance.If city officials determine there is probable cause to include the building on the historic inventory list, there would be a 180-day stay on any alteration, land-use application or building permit. The property owner would have seven days to appeal the decision.The City Council last week authorized hiring a consultant for $22,500 to survey all of Aspen’s post-World War II era properties, specifically those that were part of shaping the ski resort and the Aspen Institute, where the work of several noted international architects can be found. Once the notable buildings are identified, they could be added to the historic list of properties that can’t be altered.But the City Council members don’t want to wait until that survey is completed, citing an immediate need to review each demolition application separately. “That’s why I like this, because everybody is treated the same,” City Councilman Jack Johnson said, adding the building’s value isn’t diminished by being designated as historic.”People talk about it like it’s this onerous thing – ‘gosh, darn, I’m on the list. I’m screwed.’ That’s not the case,” he said. “Frankly, people ought to be proud to be on it.”Councilman JE DeVilbiss agreed the criteria should be clear cut.”Stuff continues to age, and by virtue of them aging, it falls into a type that should be preserved and you just have to look at it,” he said. “But we need to have as much certainty as we can so the property owner can move on with his life.”Councilman Dwayne Romero took exception not to the historic preservation effort, but to the process in which the ordinance is being passed. He said there should be more public input and a community-wide discussion before passing such an invasive law on property owners.”We failed to meet the standards of an emergency,” he said. “The notion that in the awry of night … to tweak, alter and permanently adjust how you can use property in the future … if you are going to circumvent [public dialogue] it should meet the test.”Romero asked his colleagues if they own property, to which only DeVilbiss answered in the affirmative.That angered Johnson, who took offense to the suggestion that he might not understand the severity of the ordinance and its implications on property owners.Romero responded by saying he didn’t mean to offend; he was only trying to highlight what emotions might be felt by property owners who would be affected.Johnson responded that property owners can attend Tuesday’s meeting to give their input on the ordinance. The City Council is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. in the basement of City Hall.