Owner set to raze Emma Store

Charles Agar
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Owen Minney does not want to demolish the historic Emma Store on his property, but he might have no choice, he said.

Minney held a yard sale Saturday to empty out the historic, red brick building. He brought in demolition equipment Friday and said he is ready to dismantle a smaller building at the back of the property Monday. He plans to flatten other structures on the property in the future.

“I’m in a dilemma,” Minney said. “I have a huge asset here that has been spoiled.

“If I don’t get a strong commitment [from commissioners] on Monday, the little building is coming down.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said in a telephone interview, “I don’t want to be held hostage to a bulldozer.”

“It is a complicated property,” Clapper said. The land is a narrow, 12-acre stretch between the riparian zone of the river and Highway 82 about two miles east of Basalt. There are also ponds and wetlands on the site, Clapper said, and further building would require careful study and granting of setback variances.

The centerpiece of the property is a 19th-century white brick farmhouse. On the same lot, there are two red brick buildings that were once the Emma Store.

The roofs and some walls of the store are in a state of disrepair. When Highway 82 was built, the Emma Store buildings were too close to the road. The county down-zoned the structures, excluding commercial or residential use.

Minney said he wants to lift the store buildings and move them onto new foundations that he will build away from the road. He then wants to rehabilitate the old brick buildings, converting them into five condominiums. He is asking the county to grant him transferable development rights that he could sell to other builders. Sale of the rights would help pay for the restoration of the historic buildings.

Minney has proposed commercial use for the buildings to the county commissioners in the past, but they declined his request (the area is zoned residential). He currently does not have a proposal before the county for the store.

In a separate proposal, Minney wants to preserve the white brick farmhouse ” his principal home ” in exchange for the right to build an additional 5,750-square-foot home.

Minney’s request for additional square footage is a standard concession under county zoning laws, similar to one that Don Henley recently used to preserve the Arlian Ranch in Woody Creek and build a home on the property. County officials have indicated that they would not approve the additional square footage, Minney said, and he has postponed the hearing on the matter until November.

“Their staff is taking away the new home site,” Minney said. He says the county is withdrawing support as leverage on his decision to preserve the brick structures.

“I’m frustrated,” he said. “How many times do you want to sit down and do a $10,000, 20-page document?” he asked.

He wants the board to grant him entitlements to the historic buildings and make it easy for him to do the projects he wants to do.

“They should offer some TDRs to defray the construction costs,” he said. “And make it happen fast.”

Commissioners reluctantly granted Minney a demolition permit May 24, saying they wanted to work with him. The permit is good for one year.

“These buildings are moot,” Minney said Saturday. After passers-by see the construction equipment from the road, “They’ll probably want to talk with me.”

The board, Clapper said, is more than willing to work with Minney and preserve the historic buildings on his property. She agrees that Minney could find grant money to preserve the buildings and said the board is willing to talk about granting him valuable TDRs he could sell in order to fund the project. Clapper has not seen a plan to that effect.

“It would be travesty at this point if he bulldozed that building,” Clapper said, but added that without a plan on the table, the commissioners could not do anything. “We cannot do business that way.”

Minney is free to make his own decision, Clapper said, but she added that it would be his decision, not the county’s, to destroy the buildings.

The dilapidated buildings detract from the property value, Minney said. He has had interest from prospective clients, but said he has lost many buyers because of the useless structures.

“Nobody wants to buy a beautiful home with old buildings that you can’t do anything with,” Minney said.

“I want to stay here for the rest of my life, but I am not a wealthy man,” Minney said. The land is his nest egg, he said, and he would like to save the historic structures and build the additional dwellings as an income. But he said he is running out of time.

“I want to save these buildings, but it has to be viable,” he said.

He said that if he cannot go ahead with his plans, he would be forced to demolish all the existing buildings, including the historic white brick farmhouse, and build a large new home on the site and sell.

Clapper said that demolishing the buildings does not give Minney the “God-given” right to build.

Clapper would like to agree on a plan that works for Minney, the board and the community.

“The board hopes to do work with Minney to preserve the buildings,” she said. But that, she said, would require a comprehensive plan within the parameters of building codes.

Clapper hopes he does not knock the buildings down, but said, “We have made every effort for him not to do that.”

Charles Agar’s e-mail address is