Ordinance 48 beneficial, not harmful | AspenTimes.com

Ordinance 48 beneficial, not harmful

Bill Stirling
Aspen, CO Colorado

In my 35 years of living full time in Aspen, property owners and real estate brokers have only gone to the bank as they reaped the benefits of all the variety of zoning changes passed by every Aspen City Council over the years.

It is laudatory that the current city staff and City Council are interested in protecting not only post World War II log homes, chalets, Bauhauses and A-frames, but also architectural styles of all shapes and designs since the 1970s. In my view, what has given our town character, interest and appeal over time has been the city and community’s efforts to preserve historic and enduring architecture from different periods of our city’s history. Architecture is one of the most visible and obvious aspects that reflects the culture, the history, the quirkiness, the brilliance, the humor, the philosophy and lifestyle of a community.

It is brave, or some might say foolhardy, for the city to tackle such a challenging task, especially knowing that there would be such an exerted protest from both residents unaffected and affected by the proposed designations.

My family has owned a Victorian home in the West End since 1973. We have made numerous additions and restorations over the years, which have added to the historic aspects of the house. Also, we along with all other Victorian owners, have had to cope with all the changes to the historic preservation rules and regulations affecting Victorians over the years. Many Victorian owners screamed and hollered. We all participated in the various discussions and processes over the years. Every Victorian is different. Every Victorian has experienced changes over the past 125 years, not always in keeping with the Victorian character. No Victorian owner was asked to be on the designated list. No monetary compensation, except for a small designation reward of a couple thousand dollars, was ever offered. Many creative incentives were offered, from lot splits to floor area bonuses, which were extremely effective and helpful.

The city put in place a variety of incentives to offset the requirement to protect the historic buildings. It took years to put in place standards. The city’s efforts saved hundreds of houses from being demolished and helped preserve our quaint town and make it as appealing as it is today. The efforts to make the West End an historic district were repelled time and time again by a battery of attorneys, architects and real estate brokers. Such a designation would have created an equal playing field, so both Victorian owners and non-Victorian owners would all have had to deal with the same questions of scale, context and preservation. Nonetheless, the regulations enacted were instrumental in saving the Victorian character of Aspen.

Did Victorian owners lose value? Yes, they did, but only for periods, and invariably the market overcame those short-term losses of value. The sophisticated Aspen property buyers were invariably able to see the advantages of buying Victorians and owning a piece of Aspen’s history.

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Also, I own an apartment in one of the buildings that is on the new list. Almost 100 properties and approximately 500 owners are affected by the city’s proposals. Once again, I am processing the question of what will such a designation have on my property’s value. I have analyzed a couple of houses at the request of owners on the list, and have discovered that it is very difficult to determine if there will be a loss of value and how much it might be.

The city is doing two key things to assist all designated owners. The first thing is putting in place a clear, simple review process, which citizens can use to appeal their designation. The hearing process will be an effective pressure relief valve, and the hearing process is proposed to be reasonable, manageable, inexpensive and short. The Victorian rules and regulations never had so clear a hearing review. The second thing is a range of incentives to be implemented with the proposed ordinance, which will not be dissimilar to the Victorian incentives.

In all of the downzonings, growth-management plans, community area plans, historic preservation requirements, annexations, in-fill legislation and any zoning changes, never was there a condition in these laws for monetary compensation. Virtually every one of these ordinances protected the town and made Aspen properties more appealing to buyers. Growth control meant that the town was going to control its own destiny and not leave the future to rapacious real estate developers to chart the course. Citizens always clamored for monetary compensation, but the elected officials in their wisdom said no. In my view, it was a wise move. And the town and property owners and property brokers have only profited from these city actions over the years.

I would contend the same should be true with Ordinance 30, aka 48. The hearing process and the incentives should be sufficient, just as they proved to be with every other zoning change enacted over the years. I would urge the council to stand firm and hold fast against succumbing to the hue and cry for automatic monetary compensation. I believe that the marketplace and time will prove that such a condition is not necessary.

Perhaps a simpler way to make all this happen would be to designate all of the city of Aspen an historic district, thereby requiring every single property owner to participate in some process before demolishing, remodeling or building new. When you think about such a district, these selective designations proposed in Ordinance 48 will not seem so onerous.