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Church landmark moves forward; compromise sought

Highlights:

  • LUTI committee hears case to save Beth Eden Church.
  • Historic designation recommendation moves forward.
  • Landowner unveils what he calls a “win-win.”
Shown are the sides of the Beth Eden Church that Tom Wootten has proposed preserving.

Shown are the sides of the Beth Eden Church that Tom Wootten has proposed preserving.

Plans to grant historic designation to a former church in West Highland that could potentially save the high-profile building from the wrecking ball, narrowly moved one step closer on Tuesday.

Although a divided Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure committee voted to send it to the full City Council on April 28 for a first reading on its historic designation, the possibility of a Solomon-like decision to save the building’s appearance is in the wings.

Councilman Charlie Brown, who abstained from voting on the issue, implored both sides to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

“There has been blood on the streets,” said Brown, regarding the former Beth Eden Baptist church building that was in the heart of a contentious zoning court battle in which 10 neighbors sued the landowner and the City Council.

The neighbors lost the lawsuit and as part of the their agreement not to appeal, a landowner group headed by Tom Wootten agreed that if the building at 3241 Lowell Boulevard would be granted non-historic status, covenants would be put into place limiting the maximum height of future buildings on two nearby lots on Meade Street and West Moncrieff Place to four stories, even though zoning allows five stories.

Without the covenants, a future developer could build five-story buildings on Meade and Moncrieff, but would not be required to build to that maximum height.

In other words, a developer could voluntarily agree to build a building with fewer than five stories.

Although Wootten opposed the historic designation sought by a group called Friends of West Highland Landmarks and Historic Denver, he agrees that it is a historically significant building and would like it to be incorporated into a future development. His group does not plan to develop the sites.

“It is a beacon, if you will,” with its steeply pitched roof and Tudor Revival architecture, he said about the building constructed in 1931.

Wootten proposed to the groups what he said would create a “win-win,” which would to save the east-facing wall, which is the most architecturally identifiable part of the building and possibly the north wall facing the residential neighborhood, and allow the rest of the building to be razed.

Wootten said he encouraged RedPeak Properties, which previously had the sites under contract, to incorporate the church building into its planned development of luxurious and energy-efficient apartment buildings. Wootten also negotiated for about a year with the former pastor of the church to keep it as a house of worship, but the congregation couldn’t raise the money to buy it.

Construction prices have risen by 35 percent since RedPeak initially had the sites under contract and a future developer would either have to reduce the quality of its project by constructing it with lesser materials, or be willing to accept less of a yield from the investment, which is unlikely, Wootten said.

However, he said he thought that he could meet his objectives and those of the neighbors and Historic Denver, if they were allowed to approach the redevelopment of the building with a certain amount of “flexibility and creativity,” that would pre sever the historic character of the building, while allowing most of the building site to be developed.

“History is not static,” Wootten said. “It is something we build upon as a community.”

Since the city amended its preservation ordinance in 2006, no building has been granted historic status over the objections of its owner, officials said.

If Landmark status is granted, it may not be possible to have the flexibility to retain the historic integrity of the building and make the development financially viable, Wootten said.

Senior city planner Savannah Jameson, though, said it would be possible to approve the Landmark designation, but amend it to allow it to pertain to a only a portion of the building.

Both the Community Planning and Development department and the Landmark Preservation Commission recommend historic designation for the building.

About 400 people also have signed a petition supporting historic designation and the West Highland Neighborhood Association supports it.

The former church building “is a notable community landmark, due to its size and siting, and its intimate historic connection with the founding, development, and success of the West Highland community,” Kevin Neimond, president of the West Highland Association wrote in a letter to the committee.

And Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, whose District 1 includes the church building, said she found the voluminous research on the Beth Eden Church “absolutely fascinating,” noting that she lives in a home built in 1891.

Shepherd, who voted in favor of historic designation, said she wanted to move it forward to City Council, but encouraged both sides to reach an agreement before the council takes a final vote.

Asked if she thought a Solomon-like compromise could be reached, Councilwoman Jeanne Robb said she didn’t know.

“But I think the process is working exactly like it should be working,” said Robb, who also is chairwoman of the committee.

“This is unlike anything we have ever dealt with before,” she said.

“And that is how it should be,” Robb said. “Our rules as far as demolition and preserving buildings (over the objections of an owner) should only come into play in very rare instances.”

The council may delay the public hearing at the second reading of the historic designation in order to give both sides a chance to reach a mutually acceptable agreement.

Wootten also has applied for a non-historic status for the church building. If the council takes no action by May 24, the building could be razed anytime over the next five years.

Following the meeting, Marilyn Quinn, who helped spearhead the Friends of West Highland Landmarks, said she doesn’t know how the steep pitched roof could be retained if only two walls of the Beth Eden church building are preserved.

Also, she said that sounds like it would be more expensive than to keep most of the walls and punch a hole in the south-facing wall to incorporate into a new building, as RedPeak proposed.

“But I feel like we are really close to reaching an agreement,” Quinn said. “I don’t think we are that far apart.”

While no new meeting with Wootten had been scheduled as of early Tuesday afternoon, she said they need to meet soon because of the May 24 deadline.

“The clock is ticking,” she said.

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.