`Historic’ buildings slip by moratorium | AspenTimes.com

`Historic’ buildings slip by moratorium

Janet Urquhart

Two Aspen property owners have applied for demolition permits for three structures that the city had been eyeing for historic preservation.

The demolition applications will allow the owners to escape a new moratorium on the razing of potentially historic structures.

The City Council will take up a proposed four-month extension of the moratorium tonight. The freeze on demolitions would apply to a number of properties that are the subject of ongoing discussions about what type of buildings are worthy of historic preservation.

Julie Ann Woods, the city’s head planner, was relieved to see only two property owners use their window of opportunity to apply for demolition permits by late last week, though she was anticipating one more before tonight. “I was definitely fearing more,” she said.

A previous moratorium expired Nov. 1. A new one, applying to buildings that are more than 50 years old, was enacted Oct. 23. Tonight, the council will consider a new moratorium for 25 properties that are less than 50 years old.

The demolition permits will be issued for the chalet-style house at 413 W. Hopkins Ave. and a pair of cabins on Walnut Avenue. The owner of the cabins, said Mayor Rachel Richards, appears to be keeping her options open and is not necessarily planning to tear them down.

The buildings were among a list of 40 structures proposed for inclusion on the city’s list of historic properties. The designation prevents most exterior changes to a property without Historic Preservation Commission approval.

“Most of these buildings are occupied,” Woods noted. “It’s not that easy for people to say, `You know what, I’m just going to demolish it.'”

During the moratorium, property owners can come to the council and ask to have it lifted for their individual property, she added.

When the city’s Historic Preservation Commission began hearings to consider a total of 53 new additions to its list of historic properties, affected property owners came out in force to object.

Many were outraged that the designation could be applied without their consent and that the HPC was considering buildings that are less than 50 years old – a departure from past practice.

The HPC and City Council ultimately knocked 13 properties off the list, and the council suspended proceedings on the remaining 40. City staffers were directed to find an expert to help define what constitutes an “outstanding” example of Aspen’s post-World War II architecture.

That search is ongoing, Woods said.

“You know, there are not a lot of these experts out there,” she said. “I want somebody who is going to be beyond reproach in terms of their expertise.”

Woods said she hopes to give the City Council some idea of the cost of contracting with an outside expert soon. The council is currently reviewing the city’s 2001 budget.

In the meantime, Woods said, the city’s planning staff is attempting to sit down with the owners of properties that have been proposed for historic protection. Staffers are explaining what can and cannot be done with a listed property and asking property owners what perks they’d like to see come with the historic designation.

“We’d like to hear from them what are some of the things they would want in incentives so they would consider asking to be inventoried and landmarked,” she said.

“We’re definitely pretty much on a historic preservation campaign right now,” Woods said. “It’s something we should have done three months ago.”

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