Historic preservation stumps City Council | AspenTimes.com

Historic preservation stumps City Council

ASPEN ” After four months of debate and thousands of hours of work, the Aspen City Council appears to be backing off a law passed in July that prevents homeowners from altering their properties until their historic value is determined.

The City Council was set to pass Ordinance 48, which was an incarnation of Ordinance 30 that passed on July 10. But instead, the council on Monday voted to continue for two weeks its vote on Ordinance 48.

A list of 89 local properties, which are deemed to have potentially historic merit, is attached to that ordinance. If property owners on the list apply for a demolition permit, they will be subject to public review before they get approval.

The goal is to create a communitywide discussion on the historic preservation program and a consensus on how it should proceed. A task force will be a crucial part of that process; its work could take as long as six months.

When the first law was passed, city staff had a list of 2,000 properties identified as having historic potential. That list has been narrowed to about 89 properties that were identified as having some historic merit.

The council passed Ordinance 30 with no official public notice, citing an emergency. Officials justified the move by saying that development pressures in Aspen show that many historic structures from the post-World War II era are being demolished at a rapid rate.

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Homeowners have argued that the council acted without sufficient notice and that the law was a direct hit on their property values. As a result, the process generated fear, anger and anxiety among Aspen property owners, who also argued that the cost of defending themselves in the process was too great.

When the first law was passed, city planners said that an alarming number of homes from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were being bulldozed during the city’s ongoing development boom. The City Council decided to act to save those that are worth saving.

Ordinance 30 requires that property owners who were on the established list of potentially historic properties submit to a review by the Historic Preservation Commission to determine whether their structure is historically significant. If it is deemed historic, property owners are limited in what they can do to the building.

Ordinance 48 was aimed at allowing property owners to have more say in the process. But during the past few months, it has gotten increasingly more complex and confusing. As a result, the whole issue has become a “nasty hornet’s nest,” according to City Councilman Dwayne Romero.

It was designed to serve as an interim law before a task force was established to further investigate the historic designation program.

That task force still will be formed as a starting over point in addressing the community’s historic preservation program.

More than $200,000 in previously-approved public funds will allow citizens to be part of the process, which was not initially done.

Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is csack@aspentimes.com.