Time not on historic overlay’s side
City preservation planner’s position on chopping block if Question 2C fails
A neighborhood/city effort to preserve history faces a new issue this fall - running out of time.
With several disagreements finally worked out - or at least put on the back burner - between the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and Colorado Springs officials, the newest wrinkle is that the city's preservation planner position will probably be cut should a property-tax increase proposal (Question 2C) fall short in the Nov. 3 election.
“We have to move forward as quickly as possible with staff because we have no idea what's going to happen next year,” OWN President Welling Clark said this week. OWN is the city-recognized advocacy group for the older Westside.
The current status is that the city just submitted a document called the design guidelines, which defines the character of older houses and how they developed on the Westside, to the State Historic Fund for its approval. The reason the state is involved is that it provided a grant of about $20,000 (matching a similar city amount) to pay the cost of having the guidelines written.
Publishing the guidelines will be a big step in a project that OWN started about seven years ago for an older Westside area encompassing nearly 4,000 properties north of Highway 24. The ultimate goal is to establish a voluntary historic overlay zone for that area to protect its venerable housing stock. Participating property owners would be eligible for state tax credits.
The next big step will be turning the guidelines into formal standards that could be used by the city-appointed Historic Preservation Board. The board would be the legal interface for property owners in the overlay zone who might seek building permits for renovating the exteriors of their homes.
However, that's where time becomes a factor.
Development of the standards and overlay could begin before the state finishes with the guidelines, according to Tim Scanlon, the city planner who handles preservation duties. But the city has made it clear that the lack of a planner doing that work after 2009 would greatly limit its ability to implement such a zone in the immediate future, Clark noted.
The guidelines themselves are expected to be finalized by the end of the year. Scanlon offered a “prudent estimate” that, based on past experience, the state will need up to six weeks for its review. Under the city's contract with the Historic Fund, there also must be three public meetings to present the guidelines, he said. No dates have been set; “scheduling of these meetings will probably await a response from the State Historical Fund identifying whether any changes need to be made to the submitted draft,” Scanlon said.
The information about the future of his job appears in an Oct. 8 letter to Clark from Assistant City Manager Nancy Johnson. Responding to an OWN request for further revisions to the guidelines (OWN has since decided not to press that issue), her letter explains that the revisions could be done at an additional cost and in two months time, but it would “delay the project timeline in a way that prevents completion of the guidelines project before the end of the calendar year. That possibility is important because the city's staff position for this work is part of the proposed budget cuts and may be eliminated for 2010.”
OWN's differences with the city involved several points, but chiefly seemed to relate to the city taking control of a project that OWN had started. The OWN board, along with its appointed Historic Overlay Guidelines Committee (HOGC), has been irked that city decisions have sometimes been made - even the hiring of the guidelines architect - without seeking neighborhood input. The “distrust,” a term that Clark used, has extended to document wording and graphics, analyses of buildings, what structural types should be included, how much emphasis to give to commercial structures (OWN itself has split on that issue) and even what cut-off year to use for “historic.”
(The state settled the latter issue, saying there wasn't enough solid data to support OWN's request for the year 1930. The date that will be used is 1958 - based on a state guideline that supports going back 50 years. That date was chosen because originally the guidelines were to have been finished in 2008, according to Scanlon.)
Since July, OWN members have communicated with higher city administrators in hopes of addressing these issues. Meetings and an exchange of letters with Johnson eventually led to the agreements that allowed an amicable guideline submittal. This included letting OWN insert a spreadsheet defining and ranking those 1,928 properties the members believe are “contributing” under the OWN/ HOGC definition of historic. The city had believed this was unnecessary because the information was based on building photos shot in 2005, and any overlay-related projects will be considered on a case-by-case basis anyway.
Clark has also drafted a process for the standard and overlay process that would keep OWN in the loop - Johnson's letter says the city has approved this “in concept” - and has recruited City Council member/Westside resident Randy Purvis to help OWN maneuver through city bureaucracy. At the Oct. 12 council meeting, Purvis got no objection from fellow council members when he asked to have the Westside overlay proposal brought up as an agenda item sometime in the next four to six weeks “to see how we're working through the issues with the neighborhood.”
Even if the project doesn't get past the establishment of guidelines at this point in time, at least they will provide a tool for city planners when they are considering the compatibility of new developments or renovations in existing older neighborhoods, longtime city planner James Mayerl has previously said.
“We have a chance at being a better neighborhood,” Clark summarized the OWN effort, which has included hundreds of hours of volunteer time. “The whole concept is to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood.”
Westside Pioneer article