What’s in store for Emma? | AspenTimes.com

What’s in store for Emma?

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

EMMA The roof of the old Emma store didn’t survive the winter, but a thaw in relations between the building’s owner and Pitkin County government might salvage the rest of the structure.”I think I’ve been making progress with the county,” said Owen Minney, who fell in love with the property in 1995 and completed the purchase two years later.The land is easy to love. It features an old brick building that was a gathering place for the thriving ranching burg of Emma around the time of its construction in 1889. The store was once surrounded by four or five houses, a church and the one-room school that still stands across Highway 82. A grand old Victorian called the Mather House still exists on Minney’s property.Over the past 12 years, Minney has submitted two different development plans to Pitkin County. They blended new development with preservation of the house, the store and a little brick building behind it. County officials rejected both. The town of Basalt also declined to annex the land and approve Minney’s plan.

Minney’s relations with Pitkin County soured to the point where he acquired a permit in June to demolish the store. But Minney kept his options open, and he credited Lance Clarke, assistant director of the Pitkin County Community Development Department, with listening and brainstorming with him.Minney has come up with a new plan that he hopes will preserve all three historic structures on the land. The first step is getting a historic designation for the Mather House. He recently reached an agreement in principle with Pitkin County. In return for a historic designation of the house, Minney gets approval to build a home of up to 5,750 square feet elsewhere on the lot. He said he will sell the lot and let someone else build the house.Minney is also working on a proposal to relocate the small structure behind the store to the east and pull the store, which is actually two buildings, away from the highway. He wants to develop four condominiums in the store and one in the annex building. Parking would be under the main building to ease neighbors’ concerns.The brick walls that make the main building so appealing to history buffs would be taken apart and reassembled, which would preserve their historic integrity, Minney said.

The plan will hinge on commissioners’ interest in exercising a new provision of their land use code, adopted in July. It bestows upon them the ability to give the owner of historic structures transferable development rights for sale to defray the high cost of preservation. Clarke said is was designed as an incentive to preserve very important historic structures.”It’s brand new. It’s never been used,” he said.The market value for TDRs is about $300,000 right now. Minney said the relocation and reconstruction of the store and other building could be a $2 million job.Clarke said Minney will soon present a “preliminary scenario” to the county commissioners to gauge their interest in the idea. If it is viewed favorably, Minney will prepare a formal application.

Time appears to be running out for the store. Even if Minney doesn’t level it, Mother Nature and the highway will.The four-lane Basalt Bypass was constructed within a few yards of the store in the late 1980s despite concerns that traffic impacts would topple the structure. “It is vibrating them to death,” Minney said.A portion of the roof in the store collapsed recently when warm weather melted the snow. The brick walls appear close to tumbling in places. Minney said it is senseless for him to spend a dime on stabilization until he has assurances he can recoup his investment. He will soon get his answer.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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