Ordinance squeaks by City Council
ASPEN A controversial ordinance that enables the city to impose historic designation status on houses 30 years old narrowly won the City Council’s continued support at a meeting Monday night.”I erred in supporting the ordinance,” City Council member J.E. DeVilbiss declared at one point in the meeting, making a motion to rescind the law.The law, known as Ordinance 30, passed as an emergency measure in July after city planners reported the recent demolition of an alarming number of post-World War II houses. The ordinance passed by a margin of 4-to-1, with Councilman Steve Skadron dissenting and drew a smattering of applause from the homeowners present in the council chambers.The council agreed that at least some of the houses built in the last three decades deserved protection as historic resources, and approved the ordinance with very little public input or notice.The ordinance requires any property 30 years or older to go through a special review to determine if it might have historical significance, and if so it must then go through further review.Some city homeowners angrily accused the city of threatening their financial future with regulations that reduced their property values, and argued that many of the homes in question were inefficient in terms of energy use, outdated in terms of design and did not deserve historic designation.Two councilmen, Skadron and Dwayne Romero, seemed the most swayed by the homeowners’ arguments, and advocated changes and modifications that would ease homeowners’ fears. At one point the council agreed to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to look into ways to implement the ordinance in ways the homeowners could live with.But at Monday’s meeting, at which the council was scheduled to hear about potential modifications to the law, the discussion took an unexpected turn.”I’ve concluded that there was not an emergency,” said J.E. DeVilbiss, who initially supported the ordinance.He said he had come to his conclusion “after long and careful study, and an attack of conscience. I voted for Ordinance 30. … In fact, I made a mistake.” He made a motion to rescind the ordinance.Earlier in the meeting, Skadron, who also had voted to approve the ordinance initially, had also said he believed the ordinance had been a mistake and that he would have voted differently if he had known in July what he had learned since in a series of heated public meetings.Mayor Mick Ireland noted that, procedurally speaking, the council could not rescind the ordinance at Monday’s meeting, an assessment supported by a nod from acting city attorney Jim True, but could direct the planning staff to write up a resolution repealing the law.He also cautioned his fellow members that, if the ordinance were tossed out, “We may well see some of them [the post-World War II homes] demolished in a preventative measure” to avoid any chance of future historic designation.”I think this ordinance could be reformed to work and applied fairly,” he added.The council then embarked on a somewhat serpentine discussion of various “options” put forth by city historic preservation officer Amy Guthrie concerning how the law could be modified and implemented, including the option of repealing the ordinance and starting over.But then Romero, who said he agreed with DeVilbiss, nonetheless said he could support one of Guthrie’s options if it included certain provisions, such as requiring a “supermajority” of votes on the Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council in order to impose “involuntary” historic designation of a property.He also demanded that the council consider providing “fair compensation” if it could be proved that a home’s value dropped after historic designation, and called for a “10-year, no-fly-zone” for homes deemed of no historic significance after a city review. That way, the homeowners could modify, improve or renovate their homes without fear of city interference for a decade.The council ultimately agreed, and adopted “Option 3,” which calls for the planners to draw up a list of homes that are likely to warrant historic preservation, which Ireland characterized as “a list of 100 or fewer homes.” The revision also incorporated Romero’s proposals.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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