The price of preserving Aspen’s history |

The price of preserving Aspen’s history

ASPEN ” Behind the scenes, the effort to preserve Aspen’s history has become a $143,000 proposition, with multiple hours spent by volunteers and a new film playing on the local airwaves.

Called “Fragile Heritage: Aspen’s Historic Preservation Debate,” the film debuted last month with public screenings and is now showing on GrassRoots TV.

The film, produced by Denver-based Cinema Vertige LLC and directed by Alexandre Philippe, comes after the Aspen City Council passed a controversial law in July 2007. The emergency ordinance is aimed at protecting historically significant buildings, specifically those that are 30 years or older. The law limits specific properties from being altered or demolished without a review to determine if they are historic.

There were months of public outcry, chiefly out of the concern over the invasion of property rights. As a result, the City Council passed an updated version of the law. It now requires property owners identified on a list who wish to demolish or alter their buildings to enter a 90-day negotiation period with the city. Officials use that time to convince and possibly offer incentives to the owner not to demolish or change the building.

Meanwhile, a citizen task force, working since March, has been wrestling with how to rework the law so that it’s fair for property owners, as well as address the future of the city’s historic preservation program (see related story).

The task force’s current budget is $90,000, according to Amy Guthrie, City Hall’s historic preservation planner. That figure is likely to grow if the task force and the council decide to hire a consultant to study the economic impacts of historic preservation in Aspen, as well as some other increases to finish out the task force’s work.

Three task force members ” Bill Weiner, Jack Wilke and Les Holst ” told the council on Monday that the budget is too low, especially considering that their work thus far hasn’t focused on addressing the question of why Aspen’s history needs preserving. The council told Guthrie that the task force must agree at this Thursday’s meeting if a consultant should be hired and the budget increased another $50,000, as Guthrie has requested.

The film, which was originally approved at a budget of $40,000, is now $53,000, said Ben Gagnon, City Hall’s special projects planner. Another $5,000 was added to make it high definition and $1,150 went to advertising the film’s public screenings, which were held earlier this month, and popcorn for about 80 viewers.

City officials wanted the unused footage from the film crew’s days of shooting around town, so an additional 75 minutes of film was purchased for $7,000.

“We felt we should have that historic record,” Gagnon said, adding the completed film is aimed at educating citizens so that they can be engaged in the debate about how to preserve Aspen’s history. “We feel like this is a good way to broaden public outreach … people are likely to learn more about this than reading a 20-page document.”

The intent of the film was to create a balanced, journalistic documentary on the history of the city’s historic preservation program, which dates back to the 1970s when Victorian homes and mining cabins were restricted.

The film starts out with images of Aspen this past winter, depicting its most prized buildings, both from the Victorian era, and the modernist buildings designed by renowned Bauhaus architects who were brought to town by visionary Walter Paepcke.

Roughly a dozen people are interviewed in the film, with a portrayal of the city’s historic preservation program, the controversial issues surrounding it and the 2007 ordinance.

Gagnon and Guthrie, as well as architects Bill Poss and Harry Teague, planner Sunny Vann, former City Councilman and mayoral candidate Tim Semrau, real estate agent Tim Mooney and Georgia Hanson of the Aspen Historical Society, give an informative history of what has led up to the current debate.

Making sure to present the other side, opponents of the ordinance, Marilyn Marks and Mike Maple, speak of the injustices that the City Council imposed when it passed the law under a perceived emergency and the fear that it instilled in property owners.

The real point of the film is summed up by Guthrie when she says a conversation is needed as a community about what is important to preserve about Aspen’s history.

Before the task force was assembled, that conversation took the shape of divisiveness and political battles among property owners and city officials.

Gagnon says in the film that instead of discussing how to preserve Aspen’s history in a state of high alert, it should be a relaxed conversation so the issue can be examined thoroughly.

Maple questioned who of the citizenry will help guide the future of Aspen’s history, suggesting that if there isn’t enough public interest, it will be left up to elected leaders, and property owners may not be satisfied with the end result.

Perhaps the film will engage more people to be part of the debate. Free copies of it are available at City Hall. Or call Gagnon for a copy at 429-2755. It also airs this week on GrassRoots TV.

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