City to review preservation tactics
Council grapples with protection of historic structures
Steamboat Springs — After an eight-month hiatus from the public process, a historic preservation ordinance prepared by a citizens committee will be considered for adoption early next year.
The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission and Steamboat Springs City Council will take up the ordinance Jan. 8 and Jan. 20, respectively. Historic preservation has proved to be a hot-button issue in Steamboat, pitting the interests of private property rights against the protection of community resources.
“I think, like most ordinances, this ended up being a compromise in certain respects that everyone could sign on to,” said Jim Moylan, chairman of the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee. “It was a balancing act; no question about it.”
In the end, the ordinance being presented is one more likely to please property-rights advocates than preservationists.
The citizens committee was formed last year after the issue of historic preservation came to a head when a previous City Council, alarmed by an increase in demolition permits for old buildings, placed an emergency moratorium on demolitions and significant alterations to structures more than 50 years old.
The committee was formed to review the city’s preservation policies and recommend changes. The city’s current ordinances mandate that the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission review any project that could alter the character of buildings more than 50 years old, but compliance with HPAC recommendations is voluntary. After a maximum 90-day waiting period on such projects, property owners are free to proceed as they like.
Like current policies – and to the disappointment of some preservationists – the committee’s proposed ordinance would not mandate the preservation of any properties in the city. Owner consent would be required for eligible properties to be listed on a local historic register, at which point they would have to adhere to mandatory design guidelines and other regulations.
Recognizing that the committee was not comfortable with mandatory compliance, some pushed it to consider mandating the preservation of at least a few of Steamboat’s most historic structures, such as the Crawford House. Moylan said the committee wrestled with the idea but ultimately decided against it, partly out of fear that it could doom the ordinance politically when it went before City Council.
The ordinance does, however, create two tiers of historic structures: local landmarks and historic resources. Once voluntarily listed, landmarks face more stringent design guidelines and regulations. Demolition of a landmark, for example, would be absolutely prohibited except in cases of public safety.
The ordinance was presented last week to HPAC and the Routt County Board of Commissioners. County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she is concerned that the ordinance’s provision for the creation of a new historic register for the city may be confusing and unnecessary because of the Routt County Register of Historic Places.
“It would continue to be a concern of mine,” Stahoviak said. “I just don’t want to see us continue duplicating.”
Tom Leeson, the city’s director of planning and community development, said a separate register is needed because the county register is strictly honorary while, under the proposed ordinance for the city, historic structures would receive protection under the law.
“The foundation of the plan is the creation of a local register,” Leeson said. “The reason we need to have our own register is because the city will have its own regulations.”
At the HPAC meeting, commission member Cami Bunn said the historic preservation ordinance was resurfacing at a timely moment given the City Council’s struggles with the city-owned Rehder Building, a historic Lincoln Avenue building gifted to the city. Some council members have discussed returning the building because of the large subsidy it requires.
“This is an opportunity, perhaps, to mention the fact that the Rehder Building is one of our landmarks,” Bunn said.
Commission Chairwoman D.J. Chotvacs said she was impressed with the ordinance but would like to see stiffer penalties for those who violate it. However, the proposed ordinance is stricter than the current one. Currently, if someone disregards an imposed waiting period on demolition or other work, the harshest penalty is the city’s maximum fine of $999. Under the proposed ordinance, there are five other proposed penalties and sanctions, including a five-year moratorium on development or redevelopment of the property.
“If you halt their ability to develop that property for a period of time,” Moylan said, “I think that will make people think twice about taking down a historic building.”
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