City Council to discuss Westside historic-overlay concept at Jan. 8 meeting

       “Your OWN Board and interested Westsiders have been working for over two years to find the best ways to preserve the character of the Westside.”
       So began an article by Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) board member Dave Hughes in the advocacy group's Spring 2005 newsletter. The article went on to describe the potential benefits of a volunteer historic-overlay zone, in terms of tax breaks for property owners and architectural consistency for the older Westside.
       Now, nearly two years later, there is still no zone - in large part because OWN has been denied by two funding sources in its efforts to develop design guidelines - but the group has not given up. In November, OWN requested $15,000 from Colorado Springs city government, and the issue is now before City Council. In response to the request, council members have asked for more information from staff, received an early-December memo on the subject from city historic preservation planner Tim Scanlon and, according to Councilman Jerry Heimlicher, plan to discuss the issue again “at the first informal meeting in January” (Monday, Jan. 8).
       Design guidelines - potentially leading to more precise design standards - would define how historic buildings' exteriors should look so as to be character-compatible. Once written, the guidelines/standards would need to be supported (exact method not yet defined) by the zone's property owners before City Council would approve it. The zone would be voluntary in that any projects would have to be reviewed by the city's Historic Preservation Board, but if a property owner refused to accept the board's decision he could do what he wanted after waiting 90 days.
       “We'll have to talk about where we want to go from here,” said Heimlicher, whose council district includes the Westside. The only overlay zone in the city is the Old North End, created in 2000, and he would like to know more about how it was set up and functions. If such information is encouraging and OWN's proposal sounds workable, he said the money could be found. “With a budget of $240 million, we'll find a way,” he said. “If everyone on council wants to do it, well do it.”
       OWN has been pushing the plan out of a growing concern that the historic buildings that give the Westside much of its panache are often not renovated properly (or at all) and that too often new construction does not match the older styles. Similar points were raised in the 1980 Westside Plan (approved as a city ordinance), which recommended that design standards be written. However, 26 years later, that still hasn't happened.
       OWN, which receives about $8,000 in city Community Development Block Grant funds a year (most of which pay for its quarterly Westside Story newsletter), scraped together $2,000, plus a matching donation from the Old Colorado City Historical Society, to inventory and catalog the historic buildings in the Westside target area last year. OWN then applied for design guideline funding unsuccessfully once to the State Historical Fund and twice to the city Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, according to the written request from OWN President Welling Clark to Mayor Lionel Rivera. The letter notes that “several neighborhood surveys” in the OWN newsletter, as well as citizen comments at board meetings, have indicated “broad-based support” for an overlay.
       A problem OWN encountered in its request to the State Historical Fund, according to Scanlon, was that its inventory did not precisely follow the state's recommended form. However, he added this in his opinion, he doesn't believe that everything the state requires is truly necessary.
       An issue that could come up when council discusses the overlay is whether $15,000 is the right sum. According to Scanlon, the city spent $9,000 to develop guidelines for the North End, which covered an area of 657 homes. OWN's area would be considerably larger, taking in about 4,000 homes. And, as city planning staff has previously indicated, the Westside offers a more eclectic array of architectural styles.
       Scanlon's memo indicates that developing design guidelines would be good, in and of itself. “If there was insufficient support [for an overlay], the Guidelines could alternatively be used in initiating a revision to the Westside Master Plan,” his memo states. “They could also be referenced by the neighborhood and staff in helping to evaluate proposed redevelopment and new development.”

Westside Pioneer article