Proposed alley divides sides in ‘Blue Vic’ dispute
There is a very detailed 1893 map of Aspen on the wall in Phil Hodgson’s restored Victorian on Monarch Street showing houses, businesses, streets and alleys from one end of town to the other. The map shows that the alley between Hallam and Bleeker streets clearly disappears into residential nothingness when it reaches Monarch. It has become a key piece of evidence in Hodgson’s fight to keep developer Tim Semrau from creating a new alley where there is only a yard between Hodgson’s house and the “Blue Vic.”The Blue Vic house, at 202 N. Monarch, is on the Aspen Inventory of Historically Designated Sites and Structures. Built in the 1890s, the blue Victorian house is one of Aspen’s oldest.Semrau is attempting to grade an alley next to Hodgson’s house in order to access yet-to-be built residential and commercial buildings on the Blue Vic lot. He plans to subdivide the property, which he and a partner purchased last summer. He would then build a commercial building and move the blue Victorian diagonally toward Bleeker and Monarch streets.By moving the house to a different location on the lot, Semrau would have enough room to build another house on the property, close to the Hodgson property. Semrau’s plan goes before the City Council on Monday for the third time.”I hope to initiate one of the premier historic renovations in Aspen history,” Semrau said Wednesday. “I want to take the siding, which is not original, off the house, re-side it and to make it into one of the nicest historic homes in Aspen. I want to renovate the interior and live in it. I need to lift it up to replace the foundation anyhow, so that would be the perfect time to move it.”
The alley he wants to open would run parallel to Hallam and Bleeker streets, with one end on Mill Street and the other on Monarch, next to Hodgson’s house.The city planning staff on Monday is expected to recommend City Council grant access to the commercial component of Semrau’s project from the new alley from the Mill Street end, and to the remaining residential parcel off Monarch Street.That possibility has raised the ire of surrounding property owners, especially Hodgson, who has lived next to the Blue Vic property since 1972.”There are four main concerns with opening up that alley,” Hodgson said.There are pedestrian issues, he said. Monarch Street is marked off as part of Aspen’s pedestrian zone, large segments of town where drivers are discouraged from driving.The alley has never been opened, he said.
The block hasn’t changed since Aspen was founded, he said, and therefore it has significant historic import in its current condition. And, “It would impact the streetscape. Aspen cherishes its open space and view corridors, and if this alley is opened to traffic, we will lose that in one of the nicest parts of the city,” Hodgson said.Hodgson said he and a number of his neighbors feel the alley coming off Mill could handle the proposed commercial part of his project, while any other access and off-street parking issues could be met by providing access from Bleeker Street, where a driveway accessing the property currently exists.But Semrau said the alley would provide the best opportunity for access and parking that would not be visible from Bleeker Street. Semrau said he’d be “perfectly happy” if the city were to allow him to access the commercial part of his project via the alley from Mill Street and access the residential part from Bleeker. He said grade and safety concerns have kept him from limiting his access proposal to Mill and Bleeker.”The city has requirements for off-street parking and access that are best met by using the alley,” he said.Semrau maintains the alley has been part of the city plan for more than a century and by city regulations, he has no choice but to open the alley.
In support of Semrau’s proposal, Amy Guthrie from the Historic Preservation Commission has reportedly produced an insurance company map from the early 1900s illustrating the alley and surrounding properties.Hodgson maintains it is just one map of several from that era, pointing out that most show no alley across the property. He noted that the insurance company may have had a business-related reason for drawing the alley in on that particular map.Hodgson said he has talked with Semrau about purchasing the property upon which the second home could be built.”The problem there was that he wanted the parcel priced as though it were developable, whereas I wanted it priced as nondevelopable,” Hodgson said. “It seemed like we were close but not close enough.”Hodgson said what really bothers him is all the talk about retaining as much of the tranquility of Aspen as possible, but, when it comes to development, it seems that the City Council always sides with the developers. “We are allowing the development in Aspen to close in on us,” he said.
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