What’s historic? What’s worth saving?
November 23, 2007
The intent of a controversial law under consideration by the Aspen City Council is to prevent aging buildings from being demolished.
Aspen Historic Preservation Officer Amy Guthrie told the City Council in July that numerous buildings from Aspen’s post-war era were being demolished at a rapid rate. That statement prompted elected officials to pass a law effectively tying the hands of property owners from doing anything to their buildings.
Two homes designed by architect Fritz Benedict across from the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen’s West End are the most recent victims of what’s commonly called “scrape and replace.” The homes were razed a week before the Council passed the controversial Ordinance 30. Now two spec-homes sit where the Benedict structures once were.
Marilyn Marks, an activist fighting against the latest historic designation process, said all of the were OK’d by the Historic Preservation Commission, as well as the City Council.
“They were given a thought and went through a public process,” she said.
According to Guthrie, a total of 257 buildings from Aspen’s first 13 years of existence have been protected, which represents 92 percent of the landmarked inventory in town. From the most recent 113 years, only 22 buildings are currently landmarked. Those properties amount to 8 percent of the designations in Aspen.
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“There is no reason to believe that only Aspen’s Victorian residents produced places worth saving,” Guthrie said. “However, creating a review process for younger properties that is clear and acceptable to the public has been challenging.”
Many people question the significance of 1970s architecture and the quality of the construction during that era. They argue the buildings aren’t worth much structurally, let alone historically or architecturally.
Not all City Council members or Historic Preservation Commission members have seen first-hand the properties tagged by city staffers as potentially significant ” yet they are on a list that forbids them from being altered or demolished.
City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss has taken a tour of the properties on the list and admits that not all buildings are created equal with respect to historic merit. For instance, a panabode-style home didn’t impress him yet it remains on the list.
What’s more, no one from the city has said why the 90 or so properties on the list are historically important. After four months of debate, critics say they still haven’t heard the reasoning why some properties are on the list.
“I have yet to hear a single person stand up and say the properties on this list are really important to preserve,” said Mike Maple, who along with Marks, is spearheading the fight against the city’s effort. “This list is so bad that all of these properties should be released and a task force should be formed to look at this process.”
Judge for yourself what’s historic or architecturally significant by examining the list of properties protected by Ordinance 48. The list is available at aspenpitkin.com/uploads/nov12.htm. To download the list, go to Ordinance 48 on the City Council Nov. 12 agenda. The list starts on page 29 and runs through page 34.