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Unused: Book published in ‘09 that was to be Westside historic preservation guide

       A government-funded book - meant to guide Westside renovation and construction when it was published in December 2009 - is gathering dust.


       Titled the “Historic Westside Design Guide-lines,” the 127-page illustrated document resulted from a joint effort of Colorado Springs Planning, the State Historical Fund, the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) and the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS).
       The city and state each spent $20,000 on the book project, not counting staff time, with a total of 350 copies printed. Leading up to that, in 2005, OWN and OCCHS contributed about $2,000 each to fund individual photographs of nearly 4,000 older homes in an older Westside area generally bounded by Highway 24, 31st Street, Uintah Street and I-25.
       Using the photos, the two volunteer groups also devoted scores of hours cataloging data on each of those homes - a spreadsheet that wound up in the Guidelines as a 34-page insert.
       Along with background on Westside architecture - how, where and when it occurred, up to nearly 1960 - the book provides illustrated details for restoring exterior features including porches, roofs, windows, doors, trim and fencing in keeping with styles such as Craftsman, Dutch Colonial Revival, Edwardian, Italianate, Late Victorian and Queen Anne.
       As for new homes, the Guidelines' intent was to give builders a sense of “the rhythm and style of the neighborhood,” said chief author Steve Obering in 2010. A long-time area architect, he contracted for the job with the city. “If someone wants to replace a building or build on a vacant lot,” he elaborated, “they can see the pattern of setbacks and scales in that area and can use that in planning the form of the house.”

A portion of a map from the "Historic Westside Design Guidelines" book shows the locations of structural features (some of them gone) from the Westside's past, including its gold mills and railroads.
From the "Historic Westside Design Guidelines"

       But in the seven years since the Guidelines appeared, it has had no measurable impact. The city doesn't reference it “in conversations with developers or remodelers,” responded Hannah Van Nimwegen of Colorado Springs Planning to a Westside Pioneer inquiry, elaborating that “staff as a matter of policy does not use the document (even for informational purposes) since it has not been formally accepted by the City Council.”
       Nor has there been an evident influence on people who own old homes. The city has not received a single request since 2009 to historically zone any property on the Westside, according to research by Van Nimwegen, whose duties with the city include administrating historic preservation. It is possible that some Westsiders have used the book for historically minded repairs under an ordinary building permit (or even without one), but there is no viable way to pin that information down.
       The writing of the Guidelines was part of a decade-long quest, spearheaded by OWN, to create a historic overlay zone for the Westside. The thinking was that preserving its historic architecture was important to its charm and its economic value - for residents as well as tourists.
       The overlay effort was abandoned in 2013, partly because the city's historical planner got laid off and partly because of a disagreement - continuing over several years - between the city and OWN about how the overlay should work.

A bulldozer knocks down a turn-of-the-19th-century house on South 26th Street in the mid-1990s, next door to one built around the same time. The demolished structure was replaced by a modern-style house.
Courtesy photo

       OWN wanted an overlay that was not a formal zone but would let its property owners be eligible for state tax incentives if they did historically qualifying façade work. But city staffers insisted (and still do) that legal zoning, such as in the Old North End historic overlay downtown, is needed to turn the guidelines into enforceable standards.
       The dispute became somewhat of a moot point when the state defunded the incentive program.
       Asked about the situation as a whole recently, OWN President Welling Clark said his group cites the Guidelines whenever the city asks for OWN input on land development.
       Book copies were given away free. It's not clear how many are left. Some are still at the Old Colorado City History Center. In any case, digital copies are available on the city's website: coloradosprings.gov.
       The Pioneer's exchange with Van Nimwegen started when she pointed out that the city was urging a developer to install bike racks in an unrelated Westside commercial land development project - even though (like the Guidelines) they're not part of city code.
       She replied in an e-mail that “the review criteria for development plans (the criteria we base our decisions off of, which are codified) can be interpreted to include providing bike facilities.” But with architecture, “things get a little complicated,” she continued. “Right now, our code does not regulate architecture, and we as planners don't have much power or purview in that particular area of development… We can encourage specific designs, but even the review criteria don't back us up much if the developer is disagreeable to our suggestion.”
       Van Nimwegen did offer some hope for the Guidelines book getting dusted off someday. She said the city is beginning steps to update its 23-year-old Historic Preservation Plan, and she believes the eventual product “would include those guidelines in the future.”

Westside Pioneer article