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Denver approves changes to Landmark Preservation

The Denver City Council on Monday night approved a series of changes regarding the demolition and historic designation sections of the city’s landmark preservation ordinance.

The changes were proposed by the Community Planning and Development Department.

The changes seek to balance community, preservationists and landowner interests, while eliminating  unnecessary steps from the demolition review and historic-designation review processes.

Key changes include:

  • Require that non-owner-initiated designation applications be filed by a minimum of three Denver residents or property owners, or the CPD manager or a city council member. This provision’s purpose is to raises the level of community support and involvement required for a non-owner-initiated application.
  • Limit Landmark Preservation staff review of demolition permits for undesignated properties to primary structures and large accessory structures, effectively eliminating unnecessary reviews for garage and shed demolitions. Currently, Landmark Preservation staff reviews all demolition permits to ensure that historic properties are not demolished without community notification.
  • Require that non-owner applicants file a landmark designation application within 21 days of demolition posting by the city, or within 28 days if a notice of intent to file is sent. This provision provides applicants with more time, while providing property owners with a “heads-up.”
  • Allow the Landmark Preservation Commission to consider historic or physical integrity and relative significance of a structure or district when reviewing an application for historic designation — factors the commission was not empowered to consider until now.
  • Provide for other administrative changes that streamline the process. The fee for non-owner-initiated landmark designation applications, currently set at $250, will not be included in the ordinance. CPD has recommended the fee be raised up to $1,000 when a non-owner seeks landmark status for a property.

In the coming days, CPD Interim Manager Molly Urbina will set the fee based on community input and the estimated manpower cost of processing non-owner-initiated designation applications.

“The changes to the landmark ordinance that passed tonight bring greater balance to a process that was good, but was in need of an update,” Urbina said. “We saw an opportunity to raise the bar for landmark designations, lend more credibility to the process, and include some common-sense changes that benefit everyone.”

Landmark Preservation staff first brought a draft of landmark ordinance changes to City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure committee as an informational item in July.

Later, the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission reviewed the proposals in a series of public meetings, and recommended approval. In addition, CPD staff has done considerable outreach over the last six months to community groups, registered neighborhood organizations, city council members and others to gather input and respond to questions and concerns about the changes. The ordinance changes were modified several times based on stakeholder feedback.

“We embarked on a deliberate, lengthy community outreach process to make sure that citizens had the opportunity to understand and comment on these changes,” said Barbara Stocklin-Steely, principal city planner for Landmark Preservation. “We weren’t in a hurry – we wanted to make sure we got it right.”

The landmark preservation ordinance was established in 1967. Changes in 2006 sought to prevent “surprise” demolitions of potentially historic buildings.

In early 2012 the Community Planning and Development Department began drafting proposed changes based on opportunities for improvement identified by staff.

Later in 2012, two controversial landmark designation applications were filed — one on the Gates rubber plant property and one on a partially demolished warehouse on Huron Street in the Ballpark neighborhood. Each raised questions about the city’s process and drew further attention to the need for updates to the ordinance.

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