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HPC says no to settlement

Janet Urquhart

A West End homeowner’s offer to pay $75,000 for violating Aspen’s historic preservation rules was narrowly rejected Wednesday by the Historic Preservation Commission.

On a 3-2 vote, the HPC agreed to stick with its recommended sanctions against Ron Schelling after a brief discussion. Ultimately, the penalty is up to the Aspen City Council, which is scheduled to take up the matter on April 9.

The HPC has concluded Schelling undertook unauthorized work on his 19th century miner’s cottage at 213 W. Bleeker St., destroying the historic integrity of the structure in the process.

He offered to pay $75,000 for the violations and to hire authorized contractors to conduct remedial work on the home, where work was halted last fall after the violations were discovered. He also offered to pay the HPC’s costs for an outside attorney and to write a letter of apology to the community.

HPC members Suzannah Reid and Jeffrey Halferty were willing to accept the settlement offer, but members Lisa Markalunas, Susan Doddington and Melanie Roschko were not.

“Irreplaceable resources” were destroyed, Markalunas said. “My feeling is, the violations were significant.”

Reid said she struggled with an appropriate remedy to the situation and conceded that Schelling’s offer smacked of a property owner buying his way out of trouble. Nonetheless, she endorsed the offer as a “reasonable resolution” to the matter.

“There’s no question in my mind that this is a no-win situation for everyone involved,” Reid said. “I guess I would be willing to consider the offer. I think it is a significant fine.”

Halferty also voiced qualms with the settlement and the precedent it would set, but he sided with Reid.

“I think if $75,000 is all that it takes in our community, and a lot of remediation, we have a tricky road coming in our future,” he said.

Schelling’s attorney, Doug Allen, declined to comment after the HPC rejected his client’s offer. At a meeting earlier this month, he said the sanctions recommended by the HPC – and upheld last night – would be “financially devastating” to the Schellings.

The HPC has recommended the home lose its landmark designation and that the variances allowed as a result of that status be revoked, as well. The commission also recommended the city impose a moratorium on reconstruction of the home for a year.

Schelling, acting as his own contractor, was in the midst of renovating and expanding the home when work was stopped last year. Currently, the frame of the cottage sits over a newly constructed basement foundation, which extends toward the rear lot line. Schelling planned to put an addition on the back of the house.

The variances granted by the HPC allowed him to build within the standard lot-line setbacks. If the commission’s recommendation is upheld, Schelling would face the costly prospect of pulling in the foundation.

According to the HPC’s findings, the entire home was deconstructed without its approval. Some elements of the home were destroyed, as was the integrity of the home’s interior framing. Pieces of the original wall and roof framing have been tacked onto what is essentially a new frame, according to the HPC.

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