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HPC pushing harsh penalty for infractions

Janet Urquhart

A West End homeowner may face a three-year moratorium on the renovation of his historic miner’s cottage or pay a $250,000 fine for destroying the historic integrity of the building.

After lengthy debate Tuesday, the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to recommend homeowner Ron Schelling be forced to mothball his renovation or, as an alternative, pay $250,000.

The Aspen City Council will have the final say and may select either option or impose a different penalty altogether. The HPC will review a final draft of its findings of fact and proposed penalties on Jan. 10, before the matter goes to the council.

HPC members made it clear yesterday they want to send a message to the community that unauthorized alterations to historic buildings will be dealt with harshly.

Schelling’s 19th-century cottage at 213 W. Bleeker St. is designated as a historic landmark. His renovation plans for the property received HPC approval, but he proceeded with work that was not authorized, including installing new framing and rafters and tacking the original pieces back on at random, according to testimony presented at a hearing last week.

Schelling, also the contractor on the project, did not attend last night’s meeting. His attorney, Doug Allen, suggested a $10,000 fine would be appropriate.

HPC members quickly made it clear they felt that sum was grossly inadequate.

“I think we need to make it very hurtful – something that’s going to make huge headlines . something that’s going to make the community sit up and take notice,” said member Melanie Roschko.

A moratorium on the renovation project, where work was halted after the violations were discovered, would have greater impact than a fine, suggested member Gilbert Sanchez.

“Time is money,” he said. “The idea that things could be stopped in their tracks for one year, two years, three years – that would be a nightmare.”

Four HPC members favored the moratorium; the other three preferred the fine. Member Rally Dupps pushed for the fine and voiced concern for neighbors who will look out on an unfinished construction site for three years.

“Then we’re punishing the neighbors . that doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said.

Commission members also struggled with whether the home should maintain its landmark status. Many of the home’s exterior historic features will be maintained, though members agreed its historic integrity is gone.

“I still think this property has historic parts and pieces,” Dupps said. “I’d rather see something than nothing.

“This house used to be a landmark and I don’t want to see it go away,” he said.

“I would hate to see it leveled and some gigantic thing put up, which is what would happen if it is taken off the inventory,” member Susan Doddington agreed.

“It’s sort of a farce that it’s a landmark building. It flies in the face of what that designation really should mean,” said member Lisa Markalunas.

Nonetheless, commission members ultimately agreed the home should retain the historic designation.

The recommended penalty, though, is a far cry from the settlement the city negotiated with West End homeowner Don Mullins last year. A portion of the original siding and trim was thrown away during a remodeling of his home, the historic Waite House.

He was fined $15,000, ordered to do remedial work on the home and was required to write a letter of apology to the community, published in local newspapers.

The sanctions were a “slap on the hand” that did nothing to deter future such violations, Roschko argued.

The historical significance of the Waite House, once home to Davis Waite, a Populist who was elected governor of Colorado in 1892, is greater than that of Schelling’s home, noted Suzannah Reid, HPC chairwoman. On the other hand, what has been done to Schelling’s home is more significant than what was lost at the Waite House, she said.

“What’s disappointing about this is this project had the potential to be so good,” Sanchez said. “It’s so disappointing that we have to be sitting here talking about this.”

The remediation and letter of apology are also recommended penalties for Schelling. His attorney declined to comment on the more significant aspects of the HPC’s decision after the meeting.


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