Historic advocates tangle with city over design guidelines

       Rips are appearing in an effort to preserve the historic fabric of the older Westside.
       A 1 ½-hour meeting July 9 revealed that the city and a group of Westsiders who support design guidelines for historic buildings have muliple disagreements - one of them the city historic preservation planner himself.
       The meeting resulted from an effort by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and a group it appointed - the Historic Overlay Gudelines Committee (HOGC) - to go over the planner's head to the city manager, in hopes of gaining support for changes the HOGC wants in the guidelines.
       It was not clear afterward how successful the effort was. No votes were taken by either the OWN board or the HOGC, and Lisa Bigelow, the Economic Development department head (and City Manager's Office designee), made no major concessions during the meeting.
       The preservation planner, Tim Scanlon, who was not invited to the session, said afterward that as far as he knows he is still the project manager for the Westside effort, that he expects to be involved in finalizing the guidelines and will continue to help OWN with its preservation efforts in the months to come. “I believe that once the document is released, although some may have trouble with the particulars, it will be warmly received and people will find it a good and useful document,” he said.
       About seven years ago, OWN began a proactive effort to preserve historic homes on the older Westside. Toward this goal, the guidelines have a two-fold purpose: one, providing information that can help property owners fix older buildings in a historically correct manner and two, moving toward a volunteer overlay zone in which owners could apply for state tax credits when they do major upgrades that meet historic criteria.
       The current status is that Steve Obering, an architect consultant, has written a draft guidelines document, but a final version for State Historical Fund (SHF) review has been stalled by the disputes. His contract is covered by about $20,000 from the city and a like amount that came in a grant from the SHF. The state will have final say.
       Bigelow said she hoped that “common ground” could be reached on all issues but if that's not possible, OWN/HOGC could submit separate guideline ideas that the state could consider along with the official submission from the city.
       The chief sticking points are the following:
      
  • Commercial buildings. Kristine Van Wert and Bunny Blaha (both on HOGC as well as OWN) believe that OWN represents residential areas only. As a result, they oppose the inclusion of commercial guidelines in the current document. Obering explained that the guidelines as currently written are only intended to address what commercial should look like on the “limited chance” it occurred in a residential area. He also pointed out that Colorado City's “historical context has commercial in it, because that's what drove the residential.”
           Scanlon added, “I believed the project from the beginning was intended to examine all buildings within the boundaries [of the proposed guidline/overlay area], and I believe that's what we've done. In the actual grant application, there were a handful of commercial properties.”
          
  • Building scope. The current proposal covers an expanse of more than 3,600 buildings in the older Westside area north of Highway 24 (roughly bounded by I-25 on the east, Highway 24 on the south, 31st Street on the west and Uintah Street on the north). Within that area, an unspecified number could be eligible for tax credits depending on whether they are viewed as historic. One city scenario would have the year 1958 as a historical cutoff date. Fifty years ago - the guidelines were to have been finished last year - is an “accepted time standard” (although not legally required by the Secretary of the Interior), according to Scanlon.
           HOGC members are proposing 1930, which would put the number of qualifying buildings at just over 1,900. They base this on statements from Obering that 1930 marked the end of the most commonly found styles on the Westside. Their real preference would be 1917, when Colorado City was annexed into Colorado Springs. “The reason we started this was that in Old Colorado City we are sitting at the beginning of the state of Colorado,” Van Wert said. “Guidelines for ranch homes was not the reason we did this.”
           Scanlon thinks a cut-off date can't be supported unless it can be shown that the area was fully developed at that time, and “it wasn't until this century that the Westside was built out.”
           Bigelow noted that regardless of what the guidelines say, later on “the overlay is what OWN wants to make it,” including “whatever restrictive standards you want, as long as the Historic Preservation Board [a city-appointed body] agrees.”
           The whole issue may become moot, should OWN's proposed overlay zone be the same size as the guidelines. Bigelow said that at this time the city's reduced budget resources “won't allow a zone larger than 300 or 400 [buildings].”
          
  • Rankings. Tim Scanlon, the city planner, worked up a system of ranking a building's “historical contribution,” on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being best), but the HOGC doesn't agree with it. Both they and Scanlon, have separately ranked all the potential buildings in the guideline area, coming up with different results. HOGC rankings are more severe, with about 52 percent of 3,669 homes deemed “contributing” (a 1 or a 2), compared with 61 percent for Scanlon. In any case, no one's rankings appears in the guideline draft, at Scanlon's direction. He said the only purpose for doing them at all was to identify subareas of historic types and the concentration of such buildings in certain areas. Otherwise, he thinks the information is dated. “They're based on photographs taken in 2005,” he said. “If they're a 1 or a 4, that has no bearing on the future.”
           Van Wert argued for the HOGC rankings to be in the guidelines. “I would think homeowners would like to know if they're contributing [a 1 or a 2] or non- contributing [a 3 or a 4],” she said. Without that information, “something could later be misconstrued,” she said.
           Bigelow showed agreement with Scanlon's stance at the meeting, saying that rankings aren't needed. As for state tax credits, once an overlay zone is in place, property owners' proposals would be judged on their respective merits when they go before the city's Historic Preservation Board (HPB), she said.
           In the wake of the July 9 meeting, Blaha planned to meet with Obering on several specific questions about the guideline document. After that, OWN President Welling Clark called for the HOGC to write a recommendation to the OWN board.
           The guidelines alone have been nearly two years in the making. A first consultant, chosen by OWN and hired in 2007, was let go after the SHF complained that the results were insufficient; Obering was hired last fall. The state grant will expire in March 2010.
           Assuming the guidelines are approved before then by the state, the schedule calls for OWN and the city to move forward with public meetings to let people see the guidelines. Assuming there is sufficient public enthusiasm, OWN could go to the HPB (and eventually City Council) to seek approval for more formal design standards and an overlay zone.

    Westside Pioneer article