Waite House owner says `it has not been harmed’ | AspenTimes.com

Waite House owner says `it has not been harmed’

Allyn Harvey

With his building permit and local reputation on the line, the owner of Aspen’s historic Waite House last night defended his contractor’s decision to throw away more than a third of the original siding.

“In my personal view,” said Don Mullins, “it has not been harmed. In contrast, I think the integrity of this home has been restored to a point where it will outlast me and, if I may say so, most of the people in the room.”

Impassioned as Mullins might be about the idea that preservation is not always well served with rotten siding and century-old two-by-four supports, he will have to wait a week before learning whether or not the city will revoke his building permit to remodel and expand the 110-year-old Waite House at 234 W. Francis St.

Last night’s hearing before Stephen Kanipe, Aspen’s top building official, will not be concluded until Feb. 17, when Kanipe will decide whether or not to pull the permit.

The city of Aspen alleges that Mullins and his contractor, Gary Wheeler, violated the city’s historic preservation code and the building permit while working on the David Waite House, which was built sometime around 1888 and was home to a former governor and a world-famous designer. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historical Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie issued a stop-work order on Jan. 24, after a spot inspection revealed that Wheeler had thrown away much of the siding, corner pieces, window sills and trim. A subsequent site inspection by the Historic Preservation Commission resulted in a list of 24 separate complaints, many of them noting multiple violations of the building permit and city code.

But in a point-by-point defense, Mullins’ attorney, Chuck Brandt, had Wheeler explain his take on every allegation.

Wheeler testified that he took a Dec. 7 statement by Guthrie that the HPC didn’t expect him to use severely damaged siding to mean that he could discard any of the siding he thought was decayed beyond repair.

Wheeler also said that in attempting to follow the HPC’s directive to preserve the windows, he had to remove – and in the process destroy – much of the original trim.

Asked by Brandt why he replaced the window trim, Wheeler said, “There was years of neglect. This home was in dire need of materials that are better taken care of.”

Wheeler’s testimony that he was following Guthrie’s directions conflicted directly with earlier testimony from HPC member Gilbert Sanchez, who said that Wheeler had attended all eight HPC meetings on the Waite House and understood the rules.

“Did you believe Gary Wheeler understood the HPC’s intention is to preserve original material wherever possible?” asked Assistant City Attorney David Hoefer.

“I thought our intentions and his understanding of them were very clear,” Sanchez replied.

Throughout his two hours of testimony, Wheeler continually returned to the argument that years of neglect had resulted a level of decay to the house that made replacement of materials necessary. He replaced everything with redwood, which is more resistant to decay, he explained.

After Wheeler testified on a complaint, Brandt would offer a remedy. With the new copper guides that Wheeler installed to make the windows work right, for example, Brandt said they would be treated in a way that disguises their age.

Moldings would be duplicated, entryways would be restored, and the last of the existing siding would fill in an exposed section of the south wall, which faces the street, Brandt said.

When city attorney Hoefer asked Mullins if he had ever reviewed the permits for the home’s restoration, the Texan said he had not.

“I had a lawyer, I had an engineer, I had an architect and I had a contractor, and I never read that stuff,” he said.

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