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Is it history or junk?

Janet Urquhart

Aspen needs some clear criteria before it can decide which of its newer buildings are historically significant, the Aspen City Council agreed Wednesday.

A better definition of what constitutes an “outstanding” example of Aspen’s post-World War II architecture needs to be the first step before it adds such structures to its historic inventory, council members concurred.

The council, which recently halted the Historic Preservation Commission’s review of 53 properties nominated for inclusion on the inventory, also agreed it needs the input of an outside expert.

Local architect Suzannah Reid vacated her role as chairwoman of the HPC in order to work as the consultant who compiled the list of properties now under consideration for historic status. Reid’s dual role, though she did not take part in the HPC review of the nominated properties, generated the “appearance of impropriety,” said Councilman Tony Hershey. He suggested the city start over from scratch – an idea that generated murmurs of agreement from a packed room.

The council’s deliberations attracted a crowd of property owners whose homes and businesses were on the list of 53 taken up by the HPC last month. The crowd broke up into small groups early in the meeting to prioritize their concerns with the historic preservation process.

Topping nearly everyone’s list was making the historic designation voluntary. Currently, properties can be listed without an owner’s consent, subjecting them to HPC review for virtually all exterior changes.

Many property owners contend the listing would devalue their properties. Providing significant incentives for the designation would go a long way to making a voluntary program work, many property owners agreed.

“If the incentives are good enough, we’d join,” said Michael Behrendt, owner of the St. Moritz Lodge, which was nominated for historic designation.

The HPC’s move to consider properties that are less than 50 years old – a departure from past policy – was also called into question.

“Is it 50 years, is it 30 years? It’s so subjective. I think that’s why people are so confused,” said Jackie Mastrangelo, whose husband owns a downtown property nominated for historic status.

Aspen will see a rash of demolitions if it is going to include buildings from more recent eras, predicted Gene Hayder, who owns a Pan Abode cabin that was under consideration for the listing.

“What’s going to stop a demolition stampede with people who are terrified that they’ll be next?” he said.

The council wasn’t even sure yesterday if it could stop a demolition frenzy among the current slate of nominees. A lengthy debate on whether or not to extend a moratorium on the properties under consideration went unresolved. The moratorium expires Nov. 1.

The council did agree that the 13 properties the HPC initially agreed weren’t worthy of historical designation, and which were dropped from the list of 53, should remain off the list. That leaves 40 buildings still in question.

Many represent the style of chalets and lodges that were built during Aspen’s early days as a ski resort, but a number of property owners questioned the buildings’ true value for preservation.

“A lot of the stuff selected was junk,” said Behrendt. “Why were those things ever on this list?”

HPC member Susan Dodington conceded she didn’t agree with listing every nominated property, but she defended the inclusion of some of them for their cultural significance.

“They’re not outstanding architecture, but they contributed to the character of this community,” she said.

Mayor Rachel Richards and several HPC members indicated they would not be quick to make historic preservation a voluntary process.

“Is that retroactive?” asked Richards. “Does the list just go away? How does that affect property values if the town loses half of its Victorians?”

“We wouldn’t have this town if it wasn’t mandatory,” Dodington said.


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