Expert: Aspen should debate the importance of ski history |

Expert: Aspen should debate the importance of ski history

Janet Urquhart

Aspen needs to decide if the era marking its birth as a ski resort is important before it decides what buildings dating back to those years are worth saving, according to an expert in historic preservation.

Phoenix-based consultant Debbie Abele said Aspen clearly has some unique buildings remaining from its early days as a ski resort. Their value, though, will be in part determined by the community’s desire to save something of that era, she said.

Abele was hired to help the city regroup after last year’s attempt to designate a number of post-World War II buildings as historic sparked a storm of opposition from affected property owners. Having examined the contested properties, she discussed her initial findings with members of the Historic Preservation Commission and City Council on Wednesday.

Abele, however, is keeping her assessment of specific properties under wraps for now. First, she said, Aspen must decide whether or not that period of its history is important, and criteria for judging buildings from that era must be established.

“What’s important to this community is something this community should talk about,” Abele said. “Do we care if we have any more of these buildings? Do we care if they’re gone?

“You are one of a handful of communities that I know of that has the original buildings associated with that development,” she said. “Which ones are important? That’s a whole separate question.”

Aspen’s architecture, she said, can be divided into its resort-themed development, modern-style buildings and its mining-era Victorians. She recommended crafting precise criteria to judge each style so the best representatives of each can be selected for preservation.

When the HPC last year attempted to list some of Aspen’s ski chalet-style homes and lodges, kit-built Pan-Abode cabins and modern buildings to its historic inventory, many property owners argued the buildings proposed for the designation did not qualify under the HPC’s own guidelines.

According to the city code, the historic inventory should include all structures “which are at least fifty years old and which continue to have historic value, and such other structures identified by the Historic Preservation Commission as being outstanding examples of more modern architecture.”

Ultimately, the City Council suspended the proceedings, agreeing that a specific definition of “outstanding” is necessary before it makes any attempt to designate its newer buildings as historic.

In the coming months, a public forum to discuss the preservation of examples of Aspen’s more recent past is a likely next step, said Julie Ann Woods, the city’s head planner.

“I think we need to get feedback from the community on what is important to them and what isn’t,” agreed HPC member Lisa Markalunas.

“We could be wasting a whole lot of people’s time if the conclusion is, it just doesn’t matter anymore and why are we doing this,” Woods said.

Meanwhile, the status of the 53 properties that were nominated as additions to the historic inventory last fall may be in limbo until as late as this summer, while the city rewrites its codes, Woods said.

“It’s clear to me we need to do more data gathering about this criteria before we actually review the properties,” she said.

There are nearly 260 properties already on the city’s historic inventory; 149 are further listed as historic landmarks. The HPC is currently in the process of reviewing requests from a handful of property owners who want their buildings taken off the list.

Some owners argue the historic designation, which can be applied without their consent, devalues their properties by putting virtually all exterior changes to the property under the purview of the HPC.

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