HPC slaps homeowner with year moratorium on building | AspenTimes.com
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HPC slaps homeowner with year moratorium on building

Brent Gardner-Smith

The house is not historical, it’s in the wrong place, and it can’t be touched for a year.

That’s the status today of the shell of a house at 213 W. Bleeker St. in Aspen’s West End, after the Aspen Historical Preservation Commission voted to pass sanctions against the owner.

Ron Schelling, the Chicago resident who is owner and contractor of the home, “accepted the zoning and land use benefits and concessions that are provided by virtue of the Landmark status of the structure and thereafter … destroyed the historic elements of the structure, rendering it, in his own words, `a replication’ of a historic building, rather than a restored building.”

And the HPC doesn’t do “replication” and didn’t appreciate the “total loss of an irreplaceable community historic resource.”

The official sounding language is from a “findings of fact and recommended order” that the HPC adopted Wednesday night. It now goes to the Aspen City Council for its review and possible adoption.

The order calls for the property’s landmark status to be immediately revoked, along with the variances granted allowing Schelling to build a bigger house with one less parking space.

In addition, no more construction work is to be done on the job site for a year, a new building permit must be obtained, and Schelling has to write a letter to the community apologizing. And the HPC will still have review powers over the property because there is a historic shed in the front yard.

At one point, the HPC was considering a $250,000 fine. Instead, it opted to strip the variances, which could mean that the basement, the foundation and the framing done to date will have to change.

“Everybody loses” if the variances are adopted by the City Council, said Schelling’s attorney, Doug Allen of Aspen.

Instead of preserving the structure, a miner’s cottage, and building around it, Schelling dismantled it, framed a new structure in its place, and then put some of the old timbers next to the fresh ones, according to the HPC.

He consulted with the city’s historic preservation officer about his plans last August, but needed the HPC’s approval before moving ahead. Instead, the work was done, the HPC was not notified, and fingers are being pointed at architect Jack Palomino, who Schelling thought had gained HPC approval.

Wednesday night, Schelling was represented by two attorneys – Allen and Denver attorney Richard L. Shearer.

A soft-spoken and folksy Shearer asked the HPC to give him two more weeks to work out alternative sanctions and at first, the board seemed willing to do so.

But Shearer let the board know he was a trial attorney and that if they adopted the sanctions at the meeting, “it forces my hand.”

HPC board member Rally Dupps responded by saying, “I’m hearing veiled threats.”

David Hoefer, the assistant city attorney, also heard the threats and told Shearer “that’s not how we do things in Aspen” and that the board didn’t appreciate the legal saber rattling. The HPC’s outside attorney, Tim Whitsitt, told the board members “you’re getting over-lawyered tonight” and suggested they approve the sanctions.

Dupps then made a motion to approve the sanctions and was supported by all but the board chairwoman, Suzannah Reid. After the vote, the HPC formed a three-member subcommittee to meet with Shearer and Allen to see if any alternative sanctions could be worked out. If so, the subcommittee could ask the full board to reconsider their vote in two weeks. If not, the recommended sanctions will be reviewed by the Aspen City Council within 30 days.

In the meantime, the nonhistoric house will be sitting, unfinished, in the wrong place.

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2001


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