Historical society eyes TDRs to make money, preserve land
August 15, 2005
The Aspen Historical Society may make a little history of its own in Aspen’s pricey real estate market.The organization may become the first to sell development rights off a historic property – the Wheeler/Stallard House museum grounds – as a method of forgoing development while gaining some value from its real estate at the same time.Transferable development rights, or TDRs, on historic properties work like this: The owner of a historic property that has unbuilt square footage – a home that’s not as large as the zoning would allow, for example – may forgo that unbuilt space and sell it in 250-square-foot increments to owners of nonhistoric residences. Through the purchase of a TDR, a homeowner could expand a house that is otherwise maxed out under its zoning.The financially struggling historical society wants to subdivide a 9,000-square-foot parcel from the front, southwest corner of the expansive grounds surrounding the West End museum and carriage house, creating 16 TDRs. They would then be sold, sterilizing the lot from development.
For many associated with the organization, the TDR route is preferable to carving a valuable lot from the stately Wheeler/Stallard House grounds and selling it for actual development of a new home next to the museum.”We have a lot of people who think the solution to stable funds would be for us to sell off part of the property we own,” said Georgia Hanson, the society’s executive director. “And we have other people – a majority, in my opinion – who would be horrified if we did.”The idea is to formally sterilize the property and gain value from it,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way for us to realize value from our grounds.”The city established historic TDRs to give owners of historic properties a way to gain value from square footage they could add to their house by instead selling it for someone else to use. That way, the historic house isn’t compromised by a new addition, or the addition is smaller than it might otherwise be.
Pitkin County has long had a similar program in place, allowing owners of backcountry parcels to sell TDRs for use in areas the county deems appropriate for development while sterilizing the remote properties.Historic TDRs, however, are essentially untested in the city. One recently approved subdivision on the edge of town established a couple of TDRs from a historic home for use elsewhere in the subdivision, but this would be the first time the TDRs have gone on the market in Aspen, according to James Lindt, senior planner with the city.The Planning and Zoning Commission will take up the historical society’s proposal to split off a lot and establish the TDRs when it meets today.The price each TDR, worth 250 square feet of construction, will command is anybody’s guess.”We don’t really have a good sense of what the market will be,” Lindt said. “We don’t really have an idea what the demand will be, either. It should be interesting.”
In addition to the TDR plan, the historical society is also pursuing a tax measure this fall in its push to create a stable source of funding.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com