Overlay: over and out
But Westside property owners can still get recognition, rewards for historic preservation

       After close to a decade of discussions - not to mention arguments - the Westside historic-overlay matter appears to be settled at last.

Cover of the Design Guidelines book.
Westside Pioneer photo

       To be exact, what has emerged from a recent, unspoken understanding between City Land Use Review and the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) is that there will be no overlay at all.
       But that does not mean owners of older, historically preserved homes have no recourse for recognition, or even reward. They actually have two.
       One of these is existing and legally binding. A homeowner can apply to the city for a permanent historic zone on his or her property only. If approved, any future applications for building permits changing the property's external appearance would have to go to the City Historic Preservation Board, according to Erin McCauley of City Land Use Review.
       The reward? An approved project of $5,000 or more would make the homeowner eligible for a 20 percent tax credit through the state.
       The other historic-preservation option - new this year through OWN - is a voluntary approach that simply encourages property owners to let OWN know about any such work they've done.
       The reward? If the project is “passed” by an OWN-appointed committee of local historic specialists - using the 2009 “Design Guidelines” book that was written specifically to define older-Westside architectural styles - the owners could receive a certificate or plaque (the OWN board has yet to finalize the exact details).
       OWN is the city-recognized advocacy group for what's known as the Westside Neighborhood Strategy Area (NSA). Its board members and other volunteers worked alone and with city staff for years to create a registry. It contains just under 2,000 properties (out of 3,600 in all) within an older area of the NSA, west of I-25, north of Highway 24, east of 31st Street and south of Uintah. These were deemed, on the basis of the criteria used for the Design Guidelines, to be historically “contributing” or “somewhat contributing.”
       The registry is also an inserted spreadsheet in the Guidelines book, which was co-funded by the city and the State Historical Fund.
       The registry allows another reward possibility, as discussed at the OWN board meeting March 14. If the owners of a “somewhat contributing” property, for example, can demonstrate to the committee that it is now “contributing,” then the registry would be updated to reflect that change.
       “I think it would be kind of neat if this got going, a bunch of people with plaques,” said OWN Secretary Chris Baum. “I think the guidelines are a wonderful tool, specific enough to keep houses historically accurate.”
       Regarding the registry, “it could serve as a record that a house has been restored in some kind of historic configuration,” Baum said. “So when a person goes to sell a house, the evidence is its listing on the Westside historic homes registry.”
       OWN President Welling Clark, who had pushed for a volunteer overlay for several years, said he is OK with the end result. “It keeps historic preservation alive,” he said, “and in the future it could be tweaked.”
       He and Baum both emphasized that they see the resolution as one that “does not eliminate the hard work,” as Clark phrased it, that many volunteers with OWN put in over the years.
       McCauley of City Land Use said she perceives the options as “two parallel tracks. OWN will have its recognition program, using the list as a basis. But if someone wants something more official, they can come in for state or local historic designation.”
       Such a peaceful-coexistence solution did not present itself before this year. An overlay had been the one plan since OWN decided to take action after 130 respondents to a survey in its 2002 Westside Story quarterly newsletter expressed 96 percent support for historic preservation.
       The events since then have been rocky at times, but also have shown strong examples of volunteering and generosity.
       Here's a thumbnail timeline up to this year:
       2003 - OWN works with the city's half-time historic-preservation planner on the steps to an overlay.
       2004 - The Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) donates $2,000 to pay about half the cost of photographing each of close to 4,000 homes within the proposed overlay zone.
       2005 - OWN donates $2,100. The photographs are taken.
       2006 - OWN and OCCHS volunteers spend hundreds of hours cataloging each photographed property on a 126-column spreadsheet based on city-defined architectural details.
       2007 - City Council and the State Historical Fund separately approve matching grants totalling close to $40,000 to hire a consultant to write a set of Westside-specific design guidelines - termed a key step leading toward the formal design standards needed for an overlay. An OWN-recommended consultant is hired.
       2008 - The city fires the consultant, saying he had not met contract requirements. He claims theywere not made clear. Disagree-ments also surface between OWN and the city about project goals, architectural scope and how much control the city should have.
       2009 - A new (city-picked) consultant is hired and drafts the “Historic Westside Design Guidelines.” OWN volunteers spend months editing it. At their insistence, their registry of “contributing” properties (from the photos) is to be inserted in each book.
       2010 - Three lightly attended public meetings accompany the release of the “Guidelines” book. City budget cutbacks eliminate the preservation planner position. The overlay process with the city is put on hold.
       2011 - Erin McCauley of City Land Use Review is assigned to work with OWN. OWN pushes for a volunteer overlay process in which any property owner could get approval of a historically geared project (and even tax credits) without being formally zoned. McCauley says the state will not allow this. OWN says the city got it wrong and will clarify with the state.
       2012 - The impasse continues. OWN and the state never connect. In discussions carrying over from late 2012, some OWN board members, who were not involved in the early-years overlay discussions, question if the effort should not be put to bed somehow.

Westside Pioneer article