It’s scrape-and-replace time
Unique Aspen redevelopment: Expansive, south-, west-, east- and north-facing views of Aspen Mountain, Mount Sopris, Independence Pass and Red Mountain. Incredible investment opportunity. Neighborhood in the process of extensive, high-end redevelopment … possibilities are endless – single-family residences, townhomes, condos.The listing for the Park Avenue Apartments, a collection of tired buildings that house local workers, says it all. The east-side property recently went on the market for $6.9 million.The apartment complex has arguably seen better days, and yet it has long epitomized Aspen’s east side – that chunk of land between the Roaring Fork River and Smuggler Mountain. It’s the neighborhood that contains Aspen’s greatest concentration of housing set aside for local workers, including the town’s only trailer parks (though one mobile home property went on the market for $1.2 million).Along with the Cemetery Lane neighborhood on the northwest side, Aspen’s east side has traditionally been a stronghold of local homeowners – full-time residents who purchased houses on Aspen’s free market before real estate prices skyrocketed far beyond the reach of the typical worker.Modest houses, truly funky digs and unmanicured yards are hallmarks of the east side. Narrow, curving streets and an eclectic assortment of homes give the neighborhood a character altogether different from Aspen’s famed West End, with its neat grid of streets, landscaped yards and second homes – the historic, sometimes-lived-in Victorians that boast monstrous additions.On the east side, when the lights are on, it means somebody’s home. Until lately, at least.The neighborhood had hardly gone untouched by Aspen’s “starter castle” phenomenon, but lately older homes are disappearing at an accelerated rate. It’s scrape-and-replace time on the east side, where few homes are protected by a historic designation.”The undiscovered East End. Obviously now we’ve been discovered,” said Ellen Marshall, who lives on Dale Avenue with her husband, Tom.The Marshalls used to know all their neighbors, but that too is changing. Comparisons to the West End, with its part-time residents, spring from the lips of long-time east-siders.”That’s what it’s giving me – that [West End] feeling,” Ellen Marshall said.– continued on following page– continued from previous page”Yeah, I definitely think there’s that potential,” conceded Mayor Helen Klanderud, who also lives in east Aspen but across Highway 82 from the Smuggler neighborhood.Out with the old …Perhaps nowhere is the east side’s transformation more pronounced than along Park Avenue, where a number of imposing homes and duplexes have replaced smaller dwellings as old-timers sell their nest-egg properties to new buyers with big plans.The Marshalls can’t help but watch the change – four homes and a caretaker unit are going up right across the street, on the corner of Dale and Park avenues. The Park-Dale subdivision homes, being built by California owners, are far larger than the small houses that once occupied the site. And there will be lap pools – on the east side!The construction, and the modern design of the homes, have garnered plenty of attention.”Everybody’s watching it. It keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Todd Shaver, an area resident. “It is a travesty … to build that amount of square footage on that little piece of ground.””It’s like developer arrogance,” fumed Tom Marshall. “My ax to grind is, it should fit in. It shouldn’t tower over everything. It should fit into the neighborhood.”Not far away, at Gibson and South avenues, an existing home is to be demolished and the lot split into two parcels to accommodate two or three single-family homes or a single-family home and a duplex.New regulations?The projects have spawned a renewed call from City Councilwoman Rachel Richards to take a new look at reducing Aspen’s caps on house size. The city already limits home sizes by capping FAR, or floor-area ratio – the ratio of a building’s square footage to the size of the lot.Mayor Helen Klanderud said she’s at least willing to look at the house-size issue again, but that doesn’t mean a new property owner won’t be able to replace a small house with a big yard with a much bigger house surrounded by a smaller yard.”There’s a point beyond which we can’t regulate that,” Klanderud said. “I like the idea of keeping the character of a neighborhood and its scale. I have real mixed feelings about telling people how big their houses can be,” she added. “We have limits, we have FAR, and yet we have buildings that people don’t like.”For some east-siders, it’s not so much that the look of the neighborhood is evolving but that second homes are creeping into their midst – big homes that are unoccupied much of the time.”It’s changing. It’s just happening later than the West End,” said longtime Race Street homeowner Jon Busch. “It’s becoming second homes. It’s too bad. I’m sorry to see it happen.”We were the holdout – it was the neighborhood where people who lived and worked here were,” he said.”I’ve grown to love the east side,” agreed Rich Wagar, a real estate broker who calls the area home. “It was kind of the locals hangout.”What you’re seeing is long-time Aspen residents are selling out, and their properties are being redeveloped by the six-month resident and the part-time resident.”There are still plenty of Aspenites holding onto their homes in Busch’s corner of the east side, but he is bracing for change across the street.The former Griffith property was purchased with an eye toward redevelopment after Angie Griffith, Aspen native and daughter of a silver miner, died last year.Plans for the property have not been finalized, according to investor Camilla Auger, but the long-vacant Victorian on the property will be restored to its former glory, and two cabins, dubbed the “line shacks,” will be retained, she said. The cabins have long been rented by a succession of local workers.A small park next to the old house and another one on Spruce Street, to be created in partnership with the city, are also envisioned, according to Auger, herself an east-side resident and a partner in a previous Spruce Street redevelopment.”A lot is happening over there. The whole neighborhood is changing,” she said. “The whole east end of Aspen has a lot of charm and attractiveness. Like any other neighborhood in Aspen, it’s being developed because people are selling out and moving, developing or whatever.”Hopefully, as that takes its course, the neighborhood will be able to retain its charm. That’s what I’d like to see happen,” Auger said.Walking distanceWagar has his own theory about the rediscovery of the East End. He contends it dates back to the installation of the Silver Queen Gondola on Aspen Mountain back in 1986. “That’s when I noticed it, anyway,” Wagar said. Before the gondola, there were no second homes on the east side. But the area’s proximity to town was quickly noticed by those looking for a house near the mountain.”Park Avenue is closer than most West End locations. That’s the buyers I have. They’re saying, ‘Wow, this is really close to town,’ ” Wagar said. “Now, with the market up, people are scrambling for anything that’s considered walking distance to town.”With few homes carrying historic protections on the east side, the neighborhood has also offered an opportunity for speculators to make a profit by replacing “tear-downs” with bigger homes.The Silver Lode subdivision – $4 and $5 million homes creeping up the base of Smuggler – also brought awareness to the east side, according to Wagar.A six-bedroom, six-bathroom-plus home built last year on Gibson Avenue is currently on the market for nearly $8 million – in all likelihood, a record for the old east side, Wagar noted.The home boasts “walking distance to downtown Aspen with dramatic views of Aspen Mountain,” according to the property listing.East-Enders may grumble about the changing character of the neighborhood, but, ironically, it may soon be the modest abodes that are out of character, noted Ellen Marshall.Joan Lane’s home will most certainly stand out. It already does.Her distinctive, triangular house on a similarly shaped lot off Park Avenue is among the east side’s classic dwellings of old.But Lane simply shrugs off the neighborhood’s transformation.”I don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’ve had a good run. I can’t help it if it’s becoming stuffy and ritzy.””It doesn’t surprise me that this is happening in the East End now. It was inevitable,” Mayor Klanderud concluded. “Actually, in some respects, it’s surprising it has taken this long. On the other side of it, I’m glad it has taken so long.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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