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Questions Answered: Proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance

By: Estes Park Historian Laureate Jim Pickering

February 18, 2011

The citizen-led Historic Preservation Ordinance Committee is seeking citizen feedback on a draft voluntary historic preservation ordinance for Estes Park. The ordinance would help to better document and preserve the unique character and history of Estes Park by allowing Town property owners who wish to participate to have their homes and business buildings recognized as Local Historic Landmarks. At a public hearing, which will be set in spring of 2011, the committee will present the draft ordinance and citizen feedback to the Estes Park Town Board as it considers whether it wants to adopt the ordinance.

To learn more about the proposed ordinance, citizens should attend a public forum facilitated by the committee in the Town Board Room at Town Hall, 170 MacGregor Avenue. The first public forum will be held February 17 at 2 p.m.; a second forum will be held February 24 at 6:30 p.m. The draft ordinance is available for review at www.estes.org/pressreleases/HPO.aspx, in Room 150 of Town Hall, located at 170 MacGregor Avenue, and at the Estes Valley Library, located at 335 East Elkhorn Avenue.

The Historic Preservation Ordinance Committee consists of John Baudek (chair), Ron Norris (vice-chair and secretary), Paula Steige, Dave Tanton, Bill Van Horn and Sharry White. Staff support is provided by Derek Fortini, Estes Park Museum Manager. Trustee Jerry Miller provides on-going liaison with the Town Board. As Estes Park Historian Laureate, I serve as an advisor to the committee.

On successive Fridays, beginning January 14, please watch for this series of newspaper columns in which I will answer commonly asked questions about Historic Preservation Ordinances in general and specific questions about the Historic Preservation Ordinance being proposed for Estes Park. Please send me your questions on the proposed ordinance at jhpick@earthlink.net.

Q. Other than the downtown business district, are there any other groups of buildings within well-defined geographical areas that might join together and qualify as a designated Local Historic District?

A. Yes; there are any number of areas within Town limits where groups of buildings have the kind of common characteristics and history that might encourage property owners to come together for the purpose of forming an historic district. Perhaps the most obvious is the group of buildings between First and Fourth Streets. These buildings (which include what is today the American Legion building) comprise what was once called “Reclamation Village.” They were erected by the Bureau of Reclamation during the late 1930s to house those working on the Colorado-Big Thompson Trans-mountain Irrigation Project and their families. Other examples are the group of homes clustered off Morgan Street (an area known as the “Fort Morgan Colony”) which began early in the twentieth century as the summer cottages of the Fort Morgan Outing Club, and the cluster of homes on Davis Hill (above Moraine Avenue), in the Piltz Annex (just west of downtown), and along James Street and Wonderview Avenue that were built by Estes Park’s first residents. And since to be considered “historic” only requires a building to be fifty years old, there are many other candidates. For the same reason, more qualify each year.

Q. If my commercial building or home is included in a historic district will I have to make my property (whether contributing or not) look “more historic”?

A. No. In a designated historic district only the proposed changes to the exterior architectural features of a contributing building that has been designated as part of that district requires approval by the Historic Preservation Commission. There is no requirement that the owner of undesignated buildings within an established historic district must make any change in the exterior appearance of his or her property, nor are they prevented from doing so. The only rules that apply universally to changes are those imposed by the existing building code.

Q. Can a new building, or an addition to an existing one, be constructed within an historic district?

A. Yes. Under the proposed ordinance there is no prohibition or restriction on new construction on vacant land within an existing historic district. Nor is there any prohibition or restriction to additions to non-contributing properties within the district. The requirement for the prior approval of changes to exterior appearance by the Commission will apply only to designated contributing properties within the district.

Q. What happens if the owner of a designated historic landmark property fails to obtain an Alteration Certificate for exterior changes or allows his or her property to deteriorate from neglect?

A. The Town of Estes Park already has in place regulations that deal with the willful neglect of private property. The only penalty that the Historic Preservation Commission can impose on the owner of designated historic landmark who fails to obtain an Alteration Certificate prior to making changes in the exterior appearance of his or her building, or who, over time, allows that building to deteriorate is to recommend that the Town Board revoke its designated status. Before the Commission forwards such a recommendation to the Board, however, it must hold a public hearing. Before the Board of Trustees acts on such a recommendation, a second public hearing must be held.

Q. Won’t a historic preservation ordinance impose additional administrative costs upon the Town?

A. Yes; like all the initiatives that local government undertakes there will be the need for staff involvement and oversight. But since most of the tasks required under the ordinance are the responsibility of the Historic Preservation Commission, relatively little time will be required by Town staff, particularly at the beginning. One of the reasons for having a Commission of seven members, in fact, is so that the workload can be more widely-shared and less staff time required.

Q. How many other Colorado counties and Towns have some type of historic preservation ordinance?

A. Given the strong connection between history and tourism it is not surprising that 110 Colorado counties and towns currently have in place some type of historic preservation ordinance. These include Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Boulder, and Greeley as well as most of the towns and cities which Estes Park competes with directly for year-round tourist business: e.g. Aspen, Black Hawk, Breckenridge, Central City, Durango, Georgetown, Glenwood Springs, Silver Plume, and Steamboat Springs.

Q. What is a Certified Local Government (CLG) and what relationship does it have to local preservation efforts?

A. The Certified Local Government Program (CLG) is a partnership effort between local, state, and national governments established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 to promote and aid historic preservation at the local grass roots level. It is administered by gubernatorially appointed State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPOs) and funded by the Department of the Interior through the National Park Service. In Colorado the state program is administered through the Colorado Historical Society’s Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

Q. What are the advantages of being a CLG?

A. In addition to making local communities an active partner in the nation’s preservation efforts, CLG certification provides access to the expertise and technical advice and support offered by the staff of the State Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation and the National Park Service. It also gives certified communities access to special federal funds that come in the form of non-matching grants made available annually and set aside for CLGs. There is an obvious advantage to a local historic preservation commission in having on-going access to the expertise and information of the state office to support and supplement the educational efforts which comprise an important part of its assigned responsibilities.

The State of Colorado also makes available a 20% state income tax credit for buildings more than 50 years old which have been designated local historic landmarks by a Certified Local Government. About 90% of state historic preservation income tax credit projects are in CLGs which conduct reviews locally.

Q. What are the requirements for the certification of local governments in Colorado?

A. The requirements listed in the Colorado Certified Local Government Handbook are minimal. They include the establishment of local preservation ordinance and the appointment of a qualified historic preservation commission; the establishment and maintenance of a system for the survey and inventory of local historic properties; and the establishment of a mechanism that insures there will be public participation in the local historic preservation program, including the process for recommending properties for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these requirements are met by the proposed ordinance.

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