Despite misgivings, Pitkin County approves historic preservation of Emma farm

Application spurs debate on county's vaunted TDR program

2250 Emma Road in Basalt on Wednesday, May 18, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Pitkin County commissioners approved a proposal Wednesday that will lead to historic preservation of an old farmhouse, barn and henhouse in Emma.

In return for the property owners preserving the roughly 100-year-old structures, the county will grant a transferrable development right that can be sold on the open market. The sale will raise funds for the renovation work.

“I think the historic nature of this is priceless,” Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

She said the humble farmhouse represents a different era of history than the “Victorians with gingerbread” in Aspen.

“I guess for me I’ve had kind of a change of heart.” — commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury

The farmstead at 2250 Emma Road was established by Joseph and Sidonie Dossigny in 1907. The original house burned down and the current one was built in 1925.

“The Dossigny family was part of the numerous Italian immigrant families that left their country during difficult economic times and settled in the valley, particularly the Emma/Basalt/Woody Creek area to farm and ranch,” said the application submitted by current owners Alex Sarratt and Lyn Segal. They bought the property in 2021.

Some of the commissioners were wary of the historic preservation deal because they don’t want to see transferable development right, or TDR, used to increase the house size elsewhere in the county. Under county rules, once a TDR is designated, it can be sold and the buyer can use it to increase development by 2,500 square feet in an area deemed a “receiving site.” TDRs are most often used to increase the size of homes within the urban growth boundary of Aspen and a handful of other neighborhoods.

The county government identified the receiving sites years ago but some of the current commissioners have misgivings about the program.

Commissioner Greg Poschman said transferring development rights “create more bloat for a monster home. That’s my biggest concern.”

Commissioner Francie Jacober questioned if the TDR program is outdated.

“They were great for a long time but they’ve reached an end of their greatness,” she said.

Historic preservation is voluntary in Pitkin County. When county staff feels there is value preserving certain structures, it suggests providing incentives to accomplishing the goal. Designating a TDR has become a popular incentive because it raises funds for renovation.

Jacober questioned if it was worthwhile to preserve the Emma farmhouse and outbuildings.

“I wasn’t convinced of the value of the historic preservation,” she said. “You know, it’s cute. … It’s tough for me to give the TDR for historic preservation.”

Jacober and Poschman suggested the 2,500 square feet of development created by the TDR could just be kept onsite to increase development. It would allow a second, non-historic house on the Emma property to be expanded to 8,250 square feet.

Commissioner Steve Child countered that adding that much development would detract from preserving the other structures. County staff also said house sizes of up to 8,250 square feet, which would be allowed under the approach proposed by Poschman and Jacober, would be out of character with the Emma neighborhood.

Child said he would like to see the extra square footage from the TDR used elsewhere.

“It’s really a wash when it comes to square feet in the county,” he said.

Sarratt said he and his wife are enthused about restoring the old structures.

“Lyn and I want to make it look really nice,” he said. “That’s just the way we are.”

Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury was the potential swing vote. In a meeting last month, she voiced skepticism about granting a TDR for the historic preservation.

“I guess for me I’ve had kind of a change of heart,” she said Wednesday.

The fundamentals of the TDR program are “still valid,” she said. Given all the change in the upper valley, specifically the West End of Aspen, it’s worthwhile preserving historic properties, she said.

After lengthy debate, the commissioners voted 5-0 to approve granting the TDR in return for the preservation of the Emma farm buildings.