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If church is saved, 5-story buildings possible in NW Denver

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Highlights:

  • Historic designation for Beth Eden Church sought.
  • If successful, agreement to limit height to 4 stories on 2 parcels null and void.
  • In any case, neighbors off the hook for $40,000 in court costs.

 

Former Beth Eden Baptist Church on Lowell could be razed or could be saved.

Former Beth Eden Baptist Church on Lowell could be razed or could be saved.

The possibility looms that three five-story buildings could be constructed in the heart of the trendy West Highland, despite a settlement that calls for a maximum of four-story buildings on two of the three parcels.

The wild card that could change the dynamics of the agreement in the zoning legal battle that pitted 10 neighbors against landowner Tom Wootten is whether the former Beth Eden Baptist Church on Lowell Boulevard is granted historic designation that would prevent its demolition.

A year go, a group called Friends of West Highland Landmarks unsuccessfully sought historic designation for a portion of the former church building on Lowell Boulevard, just north of West 32nd Avenue.

Yesterday, the group filed a notice of intent to with the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development seeking historic status for the main part of the building that is in the heart of a zoning battle that is winding down after more than two years of acrimony between a number of outspoken neighbors and a group headed by Wootten.

The notice to try to save the building from demolition comes in the heels of settlement between the neighbors and Wootten. The neighbors lost the zoning battle in Denver District Court last August and yesterday the Colorado Court of Appeals approved a motion to dismiss the appeal by the neighbors.

Under the settlement agreement, if the church is razed, a covenant would be put in place restricting the maximum height of buildings on West Moncrieff Place and Meade Street to four stories. A five-story building could still be built on Lowell.

Last week, a group headed by Wootten, applied for a Certificate of Non-Historic Status for the church building. If the non-historic status is granted, it can be razed within five years with no further action required from the Landmark Preservation Commission.

“There are several of us neighbors, a good number of us, that are really disappointed,” about the possibility of the church being torn down, said Marilyn Quinn, one of the people spearheading the Friends of West Highland Landmarks.

She noted all of the diagrams provided by Denver-based RedPeak Properties, which previously had the land under contract from Wootten’s group, included the main church building. RedPeak, which first put the land under contract in 2011, planned three, luxury and energy-efficient apartment buildings on the site, which is permitted under the U-MS-5 zoning. Initially, it planned to incorporate the main church building into the new apartment community.

“We are especially disappointed since he (Wootten) demolished the vestibule; we are disappointed that the Landmark Preservation Commission interpretation allowed that to happen,” Quinn said.

With the group’s intent to file a notice, the posting period for the building is extended by 28 days to provide time to gather information supporting the nomination of the building as a historic structure, she said.

“As I am sure you are aware, we filed (for historic status) a year go, and so much of the historical research work has been done, but it needs to be updated. Stay tuned.”

The settlement agreement acknowledged the possibility that the church could be granted historic status, said Laurie J. Rust, one of the pro bono attorneys for the neighbors.

“If the church is granted historic status, then the covenant to restrict the height on Meade and Moncrieff does not go into effect,” and five story buildings could be constructed on those two parcels, said Rust, an attorney with Gordon & Reese. All three of the parcels in question are north of West 32nd Avenue, a lively restaurant and retail corridor.

“Plaintiffs understand and respect that there are a lot of opinions in the neighborhood,” Rust said. “They collectively decided that a permanent four story limitation on the two residential streets is more important than preserving the church.

“But it is not up to us to determine if the church is historic,” she continued.  “That decision will be made based upon the merits of the application.  We tried to put the neighborhood in the best possible position in the event that the church is not awarded landmark status.”

Kevin Neimond, president of the West Highland Neighborhood Association, said he is glad the two sides have reached a settlement and he wouldn’t be sorry if the church were razed

“t am happy to hear that Mr. Wootten and the neighbors of his property were able to reach a suitable agreement for both parties,” Neimond said. “Providing the option of tearing down the church in exchange for a covenant on the height of the buildings on Moncrieff and Meade represents a fair compromise. As a resident on West Moncrieff Place who has a clear view of the church on a daily basis, I can say that I won’t be saddened to see the structure go if that is a choice that Mr. Wootten and his partners opt for in their development.”

Brian J. Connolly, an attorney for Wootten’s group, said he thinks all of the parties involved in the litigation would prefer that the matter was behind them.

Connolly, an attorney with Otten Johnson Robinson Neff + Ragonetti, said that he thinks the parties would also agree that that they would have preferred that historic designation for the church building was not being sought.

At this time, however, there is nothing to do but wait for the process to work itself out. He said ultimately, the Denver City Council would need to approve historic status for the building.

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