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Historic Denver supports saving church

Highlights:

  • Historic Denver supports saving NW Denver building.
  • Covenants could limit the size of 2 of the 3 buildings.
  • Historic Denver liked plan to incorporate church into a new development.
Former Beth Eden Baptist Church building on Lowell Boulevard.

Former Beth Eden Baptist Church  on Lowell Boulevard.

The Northwest Denver neighbors seeking a historic designation for a former church building at ground zero of a contentious zoning dispute, have gained a prestigious ally.

Historic Denver is backing a grassroots group called Friends of West Highland Landmarks that is seeking historic designation for the former Beth Eden Baptist Church at 3241 Lowell Boulevard in West Highland.

Saving the building became an issue after 10 neighbors lost a lawsuit regarding the current zoning that allows five-story buildings to be constructed next to the church and on neighboring parcels on Meade Street and West Moncrieff Place. The parcels are just north of the trendy West 32nd Avenue retail corridor, sometimes called Highland Square.

The neighbors dropped an appeal to the District Court decision in exchange for limiting building heights to a maximum of four stories on Meade and Moncrieff, in exchange for a non-historic designation for the former church building. The non-historic designation would pave the way for the vacant building to be razed and replaced with a new building. The covenants that would limit the heights to four stories on Moncrieff and Meade would only be put in place if the church building receives a non-historic designation.

As part of the settlement,  the neighbors would no longer have to pay about $40,000 in court costs.

If the building is not certified to be non-historic, however, there would be no legal restrictions on building five-story buildings on Moncrieff and Meade. In any case, the neighbors will not be on the hook for the $40,000.

Earlier this month, lawyers for the landowner, Tom Wootten, had sought non historic status for the vacated church building, arguing it is not historically significant and that demolishing it would  allow a “newer, more sustainable structures which better accommodate current occupancy needs,” to be built.

Soon after, the Friends of West Highland Landmarks submitted a notice of intent with the Community Planning and Development department for historical status for the building, which would prevent its demolition.

On Tuesday, the group was joined by Historic Denver.

Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, said she liked the initial proposal by Denver-based RedPeak Properties, which previously had the land under contract, to incorporate the church building into the new development.

“In that plan a developer had elected to do what we wish more developers would do, creatively include a historic structure into a new project,” Levinsky wrote to the planning department.

“We believe firmly that this dynamic between old and new creates great opportunity for interest and vibrancy in our city,” Levinsky continued in the notice of intent she sent to the department.

“Retaining the church is both highly sustainable and contributes significantly to the character of the neighborhood,” she said.

She went on to explain why she thinks the building is worth saving.

This is how RedPeak proposed integrating the church with a new building.

This is how RedPeak proposed integrating the church with a new building.

“The church structure, with its steeply pitched roof, also acts as an appropriate buffer between the commercial district and the single-family residential homes to the north.,” Levinsky said. “We believe the incorporation of this structure into the development adds value to the project, and can inspire a quality design.”

Levinsky said she “recognize that this has been a contentious issue, and that competing priorities exist among neighbors.”

In fact, she has and will continue to reach out to the various sides.

“We will pursue conversations with the property owner, the plaintiffs involved in the recent settlement regarding the zoning of the parcels, and other neighbors and hope that a solution involving the church is still possible,” Levinsky wrote.

In an interview on Wednesday afternoon, Levinsky said “we are still having conversations with people,” on the issue.

She said she spoke to Laurie Rust, one of the pro bono attorneys for the 10 neighbors, who hammered out the agreement with Wootten.

“We respect and support the work of the Friends of West Highland Landmarks and Historic Denver,” said Rust, an attorney with Gordon & Rees. “They play an important role in the city and in our neighborhood. We knew that they were likely to file an application for historic status. We’ve said all along that it is not up to the plaintiffs to determine the historic significance, if any, of the church. The application for historic status will be determined on the merits. Either the church will be preserved and incorporated into the development or the buildings on Meade and Moncrieff will be limited to four stories. Either way, we believe it’s a win for the neighborhood.”

She noted that Friends of West Highland Landmarks previously argued that parts of the church that were demolished (including the vestibule) were improperly given a non-historic designation years ago because no public notice was given when the application was filed. (Historic Denver did not join with the Friends of West Highlands group when it unsuccessfully tried to save an annex to the church building, which has since been torn down.)

“Our groups share a general frustration with the lack of democratic process,” Rust said. “This time the process is occurring in the public with the opportunity for all interested parties to participate. The passion of our neighbors is part of what makes West Highland so amazing.”

Levinsky said it is difficult to say how important Historic Denver’s input will be on the decision.

Asked if the city usually follows the recommendation of Historic Denver, Levinsky answered: “I do not think there is a simple answer to that. Certainly not a statistical one.”

In 2012, prior to the lawsuit, Denver-based RedPeak Properties had agreed to build a four-story building on Moncrieff. In other words, the neighborhood would only face the prospect of a five-story building on Meade, if the church receives non-historic status, if RedPeak remained as the developer and felt it was still bound by its earlier agreement.

Some neighbors said that RedPeak’s decision at the time was not a concession, but it was in the company’s best financial interest to only build four stories on Moncrieff, because it would be difficult to build five stories on the site. That was based on some comments made by RedPeak officials to neighbors and retailers, prior to the lawsuit.

However, according to minutes released of the meeting, no one asked RedPeak follow up questions to elaborate on their statements.

When pressed on that issue later by InsideRealEstateNews, officials at RedPeak in 2012 said it would have no problems building five stories on Moncrieff and the company would make more money by doing so. Separately, the president of one of the largest general contracting companies in Colorado, in 2012 walked the site with InsideRealEstateNews and said he would have no problems constructing a five-story building on Moncrieff. His firm had not been hired as the general contractor.

However, because of required step backs, it is possible the fifth floor might not have as many units as lower floors.

In addition, Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who represents the district, earlier said that RedPeak might consider building a five-story building on Moncrieff to recoup some of its costs due to the delay in construction from the litigation.

In any case, RedPeak no longer has the land under contract.

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Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at  JRCHOOK@gmail.com. InsideRealEstateNews.com is sponsored by Universal Lending, Land Title Guarantee and 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.