Council must respect historic preservation
August 18, 2006
I had a minor upset when the Aspen City Council let the (Fritz-Bert) building go without once again mentioning historic preservation in reference to the town’s character. I would like to share my experience in this area.During the late ’80s and into the ’90s, the Historic Preservation Commission was pretty active. If I remember right, pretty near every building in the historic downtown came up for some kind of review. Starting with the Institute property where there were mutterings about much larger free-market townhomes and some changes to the old Bauhaus motel units, we were able to work with them and retain the campus you see today.Then plans for Harris Hall came in 30 feet to the right and all above-ground – it would have wiped out the view plain to Independence. What we ended up with worked out pretty well, but it took work on everybody’s part to get there.One of the advantages we had back then was the fact that several mayors understood the character of the town. When projects came to HPC, we wouldn’t look at them if they needed variances, or code amendments, etc. Made it a lot easier to save the character of the town. In fact, up until a few years ago, things were looking pretty good for maintaining the town the tourists always seemed drawn to.We made a few exceptions. The Isis was a problem for everyone, so we gave the developers a free-market unit on the roof to off-set development costs. A trade off, but we felt it was a good one to keep the theater viable, and let the prior owners leave with dignity. Most other buildings were pretty simple; no demolition ever. Kept things simple. The Planet Hollywood was a tough one – they flew an architect in from Europe to let us know how wonderful the building would look with a few changes and rather large pink awnings everywhere. HPC prevailed.Historic preservation is a tool. Probably the only tool a town like Aspen has. With it you can control what is happening. Letting the Bert building go was an example of what happens when council has no respect for the years of hard work that went into preserving the economic basis of Aspen, and worse, no understanding of the process of preservation. The present HPC seems to lean toward the developers, while city planners at presentations are an embarrassment. They expect the council to give variances and change code, and their recommendations usually come with the hearty agreement of P&Z and HPC.There are no bad guys in the story, just the tail wagging the dog. If the members of council who voted for the moratorium don’t start digging their heels in and take charge, all of Aspen will look like the Residences at Little Nell.And by the way, if you haven’t gone over to look into the Grand Canyon, please do. This could be everything in Aspen if we don’t wake up pretty soon. It’s pretty frightening to hear that the council is working with staff to come up with the answers to the problems the moratorium was to solve.Staff is part of the problem, and you can’t blame them. Demolitions are job security; they keep everybody working and happy. The other problem is council not exerting leadership. For once, make some tough and good decisions. Even if we don’t agree with you, at least it will be obvious that you can do the job you were hired to do. Being on council can’t be easy. If you just show up, read your packet and go to meetings it is not enough. Figure out what you believe in and go for it, forget about the next election, think about what your legacy will be: the Grand Canyon, or a viable, functioning community that was given to you as a sacred trust by your neighbors.Leslie Holst is a resident of Aspen and a member of The White Shirts, a group of community activists trying to slow down the pace of development. His opinion today is our weekly Soapbox feature, an open forum that allows readers to sound off about whatever is on their mind. Submissions to Soapbox can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Please limit them to 700 words.