Development to save a piece of Aspen history
May 23, 2012
ASPEN – Pitkin County will lose a single-family lot from its pool of worker-housing properties in exchange for the preservation of a piece of Aspen history.
County commissioners on Wednesday voted 2-1 to approve a development application that ensures the preservation of a vacant, dilapidated home off Owl Creek Road and its inclusion on the county’s historic register. The approval also allows construction of a new single-family home of up to 5,750 square feet on the 5-acre property and removes a deed restriction that limits use of the parcel to worker housing. A separate cabin that had been the employee residence is uninhabitable and will be demolished.
Swaying commissioners was the plan to save the old house, which dates back to Aspen’s early ranching days and is clearly visible from both Owl Creek Road and the paved Owl Creek Trail. It’s located between Aspen and Snowmass Village.
The house was built by William E. Stapleton in 1913. He was the son of Timothy Stapleton, who, in 1881, homesteaded in the area now occupied by the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, according to research by Denver-based consultant Lisa Purdy.
“I think this is a significant-enough resource, that has enough meaning to the community, that it’s worth preserving,” said Suzanne Wolff, county planner.
The estimated cost of restoring the Stapleton home is $1.5 million, according to planning consultant Glenn Horn, representing the applicant. It wouldn’t be feasible for a local worker to purchase the lot and then raze the old home and build a new residence or restore the historic home for use, he reasoned.
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Rather, the James Gordon Trust, represented by Owl Creek Ranch homeowner James Gordon, has proposed the restoration and construction of a new home and providing worker housing elsewhere. Commissioners opted for a $504,211 payment-in-lieu fee for employee housing. The refurbished Stapleton home will serve as a caretaker unit for the new house, Horn said.
Stabilization of the historic house to ensure that it doesn’t collapse will come first – before next winter – followed by exterior restoration within two years. Commissioners agreed to a 10-year period of vested rights, meaning the approvals granted Wednesday are locked in for a decade. Horn said Gordon might not build the new home immediately, but commissioners said the interior of the historic house must be finished in conjunction with construction of the new house.
An interior renovation, so that the house can be lived in once again, is part of preservation, Commissioner Michael Owsley said, expressing hope that the old home will once again be “imbued” with life.
The James Gordon Trust is under contract to purchase the lot from the estate of Shannon Stapleton. If the transaction does not occur within six months, the development approval will be voided and the worker deed restriction on the property will remain, according to the terms of the resolution approved by commissioners.
Owsley and Commissioner Rob Ittner voted to approve the application. Commissioner George Newman said he supported preservation of the historic home but cast the dissenting vote because he wanted the new house to be smaller than 5,750 square feet and the vesting period to be shorter than 10 years.
Commissioner Jack Hatfield recused himself, citing a long relationship with the Stapleton family, and Commissioner Rachel Richards was absent.