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Council votes tonight on church

Highlights:

  • Denver City Council votes on historic designation for church.
  • Beth Eden Church is on Lowell Boulevard in Highlands Square area.
  • Historic Denver, many neighbors support designation.
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 proposed preserving in lieu of a historic designation.

The Denver City Council tonight is going to consider granting historic designation to the former church in northwest Denver that has been a recent rallying point for historic preservationists, as well as those opposing what they view as unbridled development in established residential neighborhoods.

Efforts failed to reach a compromise with the owner of the former Beth Eden Baptist Church on Lowell Boulevard, just north of the busy West 32nd retail and restaurant corridor in the Highlands Square area of West Highland.

If, as expected, the council agrees to the historic designation, it will mark the first time that such a designation has been granted over the objection of an owner, since the city adopted an amendment to an ordinance in 2006 designed to prevent the “surprise” demolition of potentially historic buildings.

Previously, Tom Wootten, managing partner of the ownership group, offered to preserve the distinctive Tudor Revival facade and steeply pitched roofline of the church, in exchange for not getting a historic designation.

Cordial negotiations with landowner

Marilyn Quinn, who spearheaded a grassroots group called Friends of West Highland Landmarks, said that numerous meeting with Wootten were “amicable and agreeable,” and both sides negotiated in “good faith,” but they could not reach an agreement, so they are proceeding with the historic designation.

Historic Denver has joined with Quinn’s group in filing the historic designation application. Historic designation also has the support of the Landmark Preservation Commission and the Denver Community Planning and Development department.

Quinn, speaking at a recent West Highland Neighborhood Association meeting, said that they unsuccessfully tried to come up with alternatives to historic designation, perhaps by crafting a “custom” designation with covenants and restrictions.

“We did try hard,” she said to “balance Mr. Wootten’s development interests,” with the group’s goal of saving the iconic church. It is believed to be the only church in Denver with the Tudor Revival architecture.

However, she said a custom designation might have been even more restrictive than the historic designation they are seeking.

The designation would prevent the church from being razed.

Shepherd supports saving church

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, whose district includes the church, also has said she strong supports the historic designation.

Shepherd said at the WHNA meeting that she had been told the application for historic designation was one of the best received by the city in years.

She said it addressed “all three criteria for historic designation: architecture, history and geography,” while many other building have received historic designation by only qualifying under two.
“I’m hoping for good things,” following the public hearing and the final vote on the historic designation, she said.
The city has received 18 pages of petitions from nearby residents supporting the historic designation.

A sample of what some people wrote include:

  • “This is the Highlands, NOT Highlands Ranch. We value our history here – we don’t bulldoze it!” Ross Jacobsmeyer.
  • “Our historic buildings show who we are,and are part of what makes Denver’s established neighborhoods unique. Let’s not lose our identity, our history, our culture.” Marie Benedix.
  • “That church is a symbol of our neighborhood. Please do not tear it down.” Joan Bolduc.
  • “STOP scraping everything you can get your damn greedy hands on!” Mike Ulibarri.
  • “To destroy this church would be sacrilege!” Frances Hart.
  • “It would be a crime to tear this down!” Archie Paulson.
  • “I cannot imagine the skyline of W. 32nd/Lowell without this structure. To me, it has alway added dignity and a warm, friendly feeling to the area. It BELONGS!” Sam Fishman.
  • “It would be more than a shame if we let this beautiful building be torn down,” Gerald Baer.
  • “Keep the church and demolish the ‘developers.’” Dia Tsung.
  • “Please don’t pave paradise,” Thomas Brunn.
  • “Why on earth would the church not be saved?” Jon Vonohlsen.

One person even paraphrased a quote from the Hobbit:

“Kill the dwarves, kill the elves, keep the gold for ourselves,” wrote Ryan Smith.

A previous plan by Denver-based RedPeak Properties called for incorporating the church into a new, luxurious and energy-efficient five-story building.edPeak no longer has the church and two nearby parcels, under contract.

RedPeak’s initial plan called for three, five-story buildings in the area, which a group called No High Rises in West Highland opposed, leading to a court battle that they lost.

Lower heights tied to non-historic certification

In exchange for not appealing, Wootten agreed to covenants that would limit the height of future building on Meade Street and West Moncrieff Place to four stories each.

However, the covenants would only be put in place if the building received a non-historic certificate, which would allow the destruction of the church building, clearing that site for a new building.

If the council does not approve the historic designation tonight, the certificate of non-historic status would go into effect next week, allowing the church to be demolished anytime within the next five years.

Without the covenants, a developer that buys the land from Wootten could under the current zoning build three, new five-story buildings, which set off the lawsuit in the first place.

Before the issue went to court, RedPeak said it was willing to build only a four-story building on Moncrieff.

Even without the covenants, however, a developer that buys the parcels could choose to limit the height to less than the five-stories allowed under the zoning.

Quinn said “at the risk of putting words in Mr. Wootten’s mouth,” hat during their meetings Wootten said that many developers are “uncomfortable with historic designation,” although she said Wootten indicated that may be an “unwarranted fear.” Wootten is not a developer, but in this case is acting as a real estate investor.

“I guess it is the fear of the unknown,” Quinn said. “It is what it is.”

Church supporters encouraged to attend council meeting

Quinn encouraged people to attend the council meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. in Room 451 of the City and County Building at 1437 Bannock St. to speak in favor of saving the church building.

She asked those who do not want to speak to wear blue, so council members will know they favor saving the church.

Quinn also cautioned those who speak to stay on topic.

“This is not the time to discuss zoning quandaries or unresolved development issues you might have on your chest. This is a time to focus on saving the church.”

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