It is time to define ‘historic’
November 10, 2007
I want to respond to Su Lum’s column (“What are we preserving?,” Oct. 31) to both agree with and disagree with many of your points. We, in the Aspen Citizens Group, think your provocative title question is one that we all should be asking.
First, thank you for taking the field trip to review the properties on the list. It is a short trip that more residents, HPC and council members should take before the council makes a decision Nov. 12. We think that few of the decision-makers have taken the time to view the properties in their context. Too many people have been more interested in taking firm positions about the list and the ordinance than actually learning the facts. This legislation effects an estimated $1.5 billion to $2 billion of properties in Aspen, a momentous decision, even by Aspen standards. Surely, it shouldn’t be made blindly.
In terms of the facts, your column states that “originally, Ordinance 30 sought demolition review” for 30-plus-year-old properties. Actually, since it’s introduction by Councilman Johnson as emergency legislation, it has been, by design, far more than a mere “demolition review.” It originally was crafted and introduced as an extremely restrictive prohibition on even the smallest of changes to a 30-plus-year-old home. An owner cannot change the flower boxes on the window, the front porch light fixture or the door knob without a government review. That is what the original legislation requires, as initiated by Johnson. We have continued to press for a more realistic standard for potentially historic properties, requesting that an owner be able to make reversible and minor changes without bureaucratic review. That over-reaching law continues on the books today, something we propose that Ordinance No. 48 repair.
We want to correct your impression that Councilman Romero or Aspen Citizens Group had anything to do with “the list.” Councilman Johnson actually introduced the original list to support his proposed legislation on July 9. The current list is merely an update of that list. Johnson merely wanted the list kept secret. That list was maintained for some years by the city in a semi-secret form, shared with friends and family, but not open to the general public, although it was required by the prior law to be a public record. Given that Aspen’s municipal charter requires that facts used to support emergency legislation, such as Ordinance No. 30, be specifically identified, the list of supporting these facts had to be disclosed to the public, which Councilman Johnson resisted doing for two weeks after passage of Ordinance No. 30. Aspen Citizens Group merely demanded compliance with Colorado Open Records requirements to make the semi-secret list public. We, in no way, suggested our concurrence with the list process or contents.
Mayor Ireland initiated the concept of using the list, which purports to identify Aspen’s most important 20th century properties, to reduce the impact of Ordinance No. 30 on thousands of homeowners. We support that concept if the list, is indeed, a quality list. We do have our concerns about that.
Your post-trip conclusion that the list “appears hastily scrabbled together” is another point of strong agreement. However, city staff state that this list has had the review and input of experts and years of study, although they do not have the requisite score sheets for these properties. Staff was given from July 10 until Sept. 26 to refine the list, which is the current list you reference.
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You raise the question of what the community wants ” new houses, old houses, charming houses, eclectic mix? We agree that the community should have had a chance to voice their opinion. After all, no matter what the choice, the public and the neighborhoods all have some cost-benefit equation to weigh. What ACG has been promoting is a very quality-oriented positive, voluntary historic preservation program with incentives which have the support of the community, reflecting the community’s desires and chosen tradeoffs. We think that the time is long overdue to involve the community and taxpayers in this question.
As for the “sweet Victorians” converted into massive homes in the West End as you mention, this is a question we have been raising without much response. Aspen’s present HP program is big house development-oriented. We think that the program may be out of step with what the community supports in 2007. However, Councilman Johnson’s Ordinance No. 30 promoted conferring and virtually forcing these pro-development benefits on a population of hundreds of 30- to 40-year-old homes, if found to be worthy of preservation. (The list at least cuts that back to 89 properties.)
Of course, many of the 20th century properties, if they can be redeveloped, cannot be redeveloped as readily as the Victorians. With the increased complexity, time, money and risk required to take advantage of the HP incentives, the developers win and the homeowner ” forced to sell at a deep discount because of the complex restrictions ” loses. That is why we are fighting so hard for economic fairness to the homeowner, not a windfall to the developers.
Again, we would prefer to see a voluntary positive program of quality preservation with more modest incentives that make sense to Aspen’s population in 2007. If that is not available from our present government, we promote the more limited reach of Ordinance No. 48, with protections for the community and it’s property owners which it begins to address.
We hope that your column will persuade our decision-makers and the public to answer your question for themselves, “What are we preserving?”
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