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Questions Answered: Proposed Historic Preservation Ordinance

Jim Pickering

By: Estes Park Historian Laureate Jim Pickering

January 14, 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. What is historic preservation?

A. History and heritage are widely accepted core values in all cultures; they are what provide local communities with much of their character and their unique and special “sense of place”. Historic preservation is the means through which communities seek to identify, survey, enhance, and protect their historical assets.

Q. What is a local historic preservation ordinance?

A. Ordinances are statements of governmental policy. Local preservation ordinances establish the mechanisms that communities use to make the preservation of their historic assets a civic goal.

Q. How has historic preservation developed in America as a community activity?

A. The desire to preserve the artifacts associated with our history is deeply rooted in the American experience, and we call upon those assets almost every day, even without being particularly conscious of doing so. We set aside certain days each year to remember and celebrate individuals and events that are particularly important to our nation’s past. That history, remembered and celebrated, tells us who are collectively as a people.

Historic preservation as a nation-wide commitment can be traced to the Historic Preservation Act of 1966, a piece of landmark legislation, which made the preservation of historic buildings and sites across the nation a matter of federal policy. The Act’s preamble declares that “the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage”; that “the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people;” and that “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest.”

In order to encourage ground-up preservation activities at the local community level, the Act did two important things: (1) it made available tax incentives in the form of tax credits for preservation projects which meet certain guidelines (see below) and (2) it established state historic preservation offices (SHPOs) in every state to encourage local communities to participate in preservation activities.

Q. Why do communities typically become interested in historic preservation activities?

A. Though motives vary with circumstances, communities typically pursue historic preservation for one or more of the following reasons: to stimulate an awareness of local heritage and to foster civic pride; to stabilize and revitalize downtown business districts and neighborhoods, and increase property values; to encourage the appropriate preservation and rehabilitation of historically important buildings through the private sector; to increase tourism and the tourist-generated tax dollars that come from well-directed efforts to recognize and celebrate local heritage; to help develop and articulate their visions for the future and to use that vision as a strategic tool in comprehensive community planning; and, since historic preservation has often been said to be “the ultimate form of recycling,” to demonstrate their commitment to environmental concerns.

Q. Why is historic preservation important for Estes Park?

A. Estes Park is one of Colorado’s most historic communities; it is the unique place where much of Colorado’s all-important tourist industry was born and developed. Many of its buildings, public and private, and many of its sites, reflect that history. Good stewardship and civic pride suggests that, in so far as it is possible and practical, this heritage should be safeguarded and protected so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.

This very same principle, it should be noted guides Rocky Mountain National Park, the Town’s neighbor to the west. Its mission, as stated in the so-called Organic Act which established the National Park Service in 1916, is to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects therein” by “such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Q. Why is this appropriate time for the Town to consider a local preservation ordinance?

A. Like many communities across the nation, Estes Park is faced with changes having to do with growth and development. Some of those changes will inevitably impact buildings and sites that are an important part of Estes Park’s social, cultural, historic, and architectural heritage and are irreplaceable public assets.

Making historic preservation an element of comprehensive planning can help Estes Park to manage and guide the changes that will inevitably come. It will encourage the Estes Park community to pay attention to our past even as we go about the important task of planning for, and securing, our future.

Q. How would an historic preservation ordinance help the Town of Estes Park to meet the existing goals of Town government?

A. On March 24, 2009, the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a Mission and Vision statement establishing eight core values, or goals, against which to guide, and against which to measure, its future actions. This statement was reaffirmed in 2010.

An historic preservation ordinance would help achieve five of these stated goals: Core Value A. (“Maintain and strengthen our economic vitality,”) by encouraging redevelopment of historic buildings and helping to promote historic tourism; Core Value C. (Preserve our unique character and history,”) by providing a reasonable vehicle to help current building owners preserve their buildings; Core Value E. (“Consider the impact of our actions on the environment,”) by recognizing that the adaptive reuse of historic buildings is an environmentally beneficial thing to do; Core Value F. (“Support diverse, affordable housing,”) by providing a potential for workforce housing in revitalized buildings; and Core Value G. (“Enhance recreational and cultural opportunities,”) by helping to retain Estes Park’s historical heritage for future generations.

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