Local to city of Aspen: Can I have my house back?
ASPEN, Colorado ” The man who sold his home to the city of Aspen for $3.5 million has offered to buy it back for $2.8 million.
Jordie Gerberg recently submitted a formal proposal to the city as part of a public bidding process. Interested parties had until Jan. 21 to submit proposals that include either an offer to purchase or trade their property in exchange for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house located at 312 W. Hyman Ave.
The request for proposals was prompted after Peter Fornell, who represents his brother-in-law, John Cooper, approached government officials in December with an offer to trade a four-plex apartment building located at 301 W. Hyman Ave. for the city’s chalet-style house down the street.
Fornell and Gerberg are the only bidders on the property.
Gerberg ” who rents the house from the city for $2,000 a month, along with another tenant who pays $1,000 ” had owned the property for 21 years before he sold it to the city in March 2007. His lease, which was extended in October 2007, expires on May 31, 2009.
City officials received significant criticism from the community when the city bought the 1,956-square-foot, two-story house, which was built in 1956 by Genevieve Birlauf Leininger and her father.
The purchase was in direct response to Gerberg’s intent to sell it and have it demolished to make way for a new home.
The Aspen City Council voted 3-2 to buy it and then designate it historic, based on a recommendation by the city’s historic preservation officer, Amy Guthrie. The mayor at the time, Helen Klanderud, and then-councilman Torre voted against the purchase. Once the city bought the house, it designated the building as historic, which prevents it from being torn down. Historic preservation officials note that the home’s architecture exemplifies the social and architectural history of Aspen as it began developing as a ski resort.
The stipulation attached to Gerberg’s offer to buy the property back is that the historic designation be lifted and never be considered again. The other option Gerberg proposes is that the house be moved off the property at the city’s expense.
“I want to be able to live there and redevelop it,” he said, adding when he owned it the Historic Preservation Commission twice opted not to designate the property, deeming it unworthy of historic value.
If the government was to make a swap with Cooper’s four-plex, city officials could redevelop the property into affordable housing, as well as the three lots surrounding it since they also are owned by the public.
Fornell stands to receive millions of dollars worth of transferable development rights attached to the historic property if the land swap were to occur.
Gerberg said the city ought to do what’s right and give him back his house, which he claims was wrongfully designated and purchased under false pretenses.
“This was a folly in the first place,” he said, adding his proposal is the fair market price for the property according to the Pitkin County Assessor’s Office. “I’m trying to let them get out of it. … This house is a huge enigma for the city right now.”
Fornell said he and Cooper plan to add on to the existing historic home. The building is a legal non-conforming duplex, with one unit and a garage on the ground level, and a second unit on the upper floor. The 6,000-square-foot lot allows a maximum of 3,240 square feet to be built on it.
Fornell said Cooper’s building was bought for $1.7 million and is of equal value ” if not more ” to the city’s property because of the affordable housing development opportunities.
Because the West Hyman house is historically designated and there are large trees on the property, there are limitations to development. For instance, it’s unlikely that the house can be relocated, or that basement excavation can occur under it because of the trees.
There is potential for a developer to receive approval for more square footage than what is allowed in the city’s code because of historic preservation incentives.
City officials and the city’s real estate broker, Greg Hunter, will evaluate the proposals in the coming months and make a recommendation to City Council.
Gerberg said he has considered suing the city for blocking his plans to redevelop the property, and said he feels cheated out of what was rightfully his, despite the fact he received $3.5 million.
“You can’t get much for that in this town,” he said. “Sometimes you want to throw your hands up and leave this town.”