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Quaint corner of Aspen pegged for redevelopment

Janet Urquhart
Rendering courtesy of OZ Architecture. A development sketch for the three miners cabins on Hopkins Avenue, behind City Hall, shows new residential space behind the historic buildings.
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A square block of downtown Aspen that has existed pretty much unchanged for more than a century is poised for a dramatic alteration.The three Conner family cabins on East Hopkins, behind City Hall, are the focus of a redevelopment plan that retains the trio of historic structures, but would add three new, separate three-story residences behind them. The cabins are to be renovated and restored for commercial office use.Aspen’s Historic Preservation Commission generally lauded the conceptual plans in a work session Wednesday. Members called the developers’ latest proposal a vast improvement over their first idea – to attach large residential additions to the back of each cabin.The project still needs a formal recommendation from the HPC board. It would then go to the city planning and zoning commission before reaching the City Council.After the HPC panned the first proposal a month ago, developer Greg Hills and his team met with Amy Guthrie, the city’s historic preservation officer, and Chris Bendon, newly appointed as the city’s head planner.

What evolved is a mixed-use project that maintains the cabins as individual commercial buildings and creates three free-market residences behind them. The cabins will be moved closer to Hopkins to accommodate the new buildings. About 10 feet will separate the cabins from the new development.”We think it’s a great concept, quite honestly,” Hills told the HPC.”I think this is going in a great direction,” said HPC member Derek Skalko.”I love the concept,” agreed HPC member Michael Hoffman. “What’s cool about this is it can actually happen in the commercial core.”Some HPC members voiced concern about the height and mass of the new residences, but all agreed Hills and his team are on the right track.

The new homes, actually three separate residences, would be very close together – much like buildings of old in the commercial core. They almost appear to be connected. The architecture of the first two floors of the residences will be patterned after the historic mercantile buildings of downtown Aspen, with a recessed third floor of a more contemporary design, explained architect Michael Noda of OZ Architecture in Denver.Retaining the cabins as commercial buildings – expanded with new, full basements – will mean they’re not dark, second homes, Hills said.”Having commercial use in the cabins means the lights will be on – there will be activity in the cabins,” Noda agreed. “The new residential structures are sort of a backdrop to the historic cabins.”The new buildings would be roughly 34 feet high in a zone that permits 40 feet, he said. The land-use rules for the historic properties don’t require any affordable housing as part of the development.The city block that contains the Conner cabins is something of a throwback to another era. The cabins date back to at least 1893, according to Guthrie. The block also contains Aspen City Hall and St. Mary Church and rectory – all are historic structures that look much as they did when they were built, though the parish recently added a garage/caretaker unit on its property.

Only one of the cabins is currently inhabited; one has been vacant for some 30 years, according to Hills. Each measures about 700 to 800 square feet and they’re all in rough shape, he said.”Most people walk by them and wonder, how can this be in downtown Aspen?” he said. “What we’re hoping to do is kind of bring them back to life. They’re kind of on a respirator right now.”Austin-Lawrence Partners has an option to purchase the three cabin parcels, Hills said. Altogether, they measure about 9,000 square feet.Austin-Lawrence Partners has been involved in several Aspen redevelopments, including the Galena Lofts and the new Christiana Aspen, formerly the Christiania Ski Lodge and Chalets.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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