Council sees future in historic-overlay zone covering 3,600 homes on older Westside

       Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera offered strong support at a City Council meeting Feb. 12 for an incentive-based historic-overlay zone that would guide renovations - and possibly also new development - on much of the older Westside.
       The idea had been brought to council by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), represented by OWN board member and longtime Westside leader Dave Hughes. Council had first talked about the issue in January.
       “I like what you are proposing, Mr. Hughes, in terms of that 'swiss-cheese' type of historic preservation overlay zone, not compelling anyone to be in it but offering financial incentives,” Rivera said at the conclusion of a roughly one-hour council discussion.
       Appearing to reflect a consensus of council, Rivera directed city staff to work with OWN and a designated council member (Westside resident Randy Purvis) in determining the necessary “deliverables” and costs for an architect in creating design guidelines for the zone, which would take in 3,600 houses north of Highway 24.
       OWN, the city-designated advocate for the older Westside's neighborhoods, had asked council to appropriate $15,000 so OWN could hire a previously chosen architect who'd said he would do the work. The guidelines would be used by the city's Historic Preservation Board in reviewing homeowners' renovation applications.
       However, city staff has questioned whether $15,000 would be enough money, considering the number of houses as well as the need to determine various Westside “sub-areas” and to categorize each property's historical “contribution.” And, a memo to council before the meeting added a new task - guidelines for new development - which, according to Hughes, exceeds the scope that the OWN-chosen architect had agreed to.
       Such conflicts should not be used as reasons to deem the overlay unworkable, was the council message to city staff.
       “I am concerned that the obstacles are going to be the focus rather than a solution,” said Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, whose District 3 includes the proposed overlay area. “I'd rather we get a good number for what they (OWN) are considering.”
       Purvis offered similar comments, adding, “I don't care where the money comes from. Fifteen thousand dollars out of a $242 million budget is not a great amount, given the amount of time and money the neighborhood has already put into this.”
       If $15,000 isn't enough, “then you come back here and tell us how many additional bits of money it's going to take to get it done,” Rivera instructed Tim Scanlon of City Planning, whose work duties include historic preservation.
       Hughes perked up at the idea of more money. With additional funds, “we could do new development (guidelines) and expand the zone to include the Midland area,” he told council.
       In his comments, he noted that OWN has already spent $2,000 (helped by a like amount from the Old Colorado City Historical Society) to have photos shot of the 3,600 houses; also, by the time the architect gets started, neighborhood volunteers using the photos will have devoted 330 hours, including filling out a city-prepared, 126-column spreadsheet listing architectural details for each house.
       Once the guidelines are complete, all the property owners in the zone will be legally notified of the plan and be “invited to comment,” Scanlon said. Hughes has no problem with that. Since the idea came up about four years ago, he said, “I'm very confident, based on feedback and surveys (by OWN), that the majority wants to do it, because there's no downside.”
       The tax incentives would amount to 20 percent off the Colorado income tax for any historically approved remodeling work exceeding $5,000. The one disincentive would be a 90-day wait for a property owner not wishing to follow the design guidelines.
       Scanlon was also the person who came up with the “swiss cheese” comment, because the Westside district would have “holes” in which there would be various houses that are non-historic.
       Hughes did not argue this point. In prepared comments, he wrote, “The Westside is hardly the Broadmoor in its elegance. But it is worth preserving, even enhancing, in its historical look and feel.”

Westside Pioneer article