Released on June 12, the city’s updated Historic Preservation Plan, HistoricCOS, will be “unveiled” to the public at the Pioneers Museum on Aug. 27 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
As drafted, it’s 80 pages of hopeful bureaucratese (tinyurl.com/CSBJ-HistCOS). The authors clearly support historic preservation, treasure historic neighborhoods and believe that old buildings should be retained, renovated, repurposed and revered — but not torn down.
Since HistoricCOS is merely an appendage of the city’s recently updated comprehensive plan (PlanCOS), it doesn’t break any new ground. It suggests going forward with various preservation initiatives (some of which have been under consideration by city leaders for three decades!) but none of them have any teeth. None would protect a single building from demolition; none would prevent the gradual transformation of historic neighborhoods to meet the perceived needs of developers. At best, they could slow down the process and hope that future developers might be deterred by a few flimsily constructed bureaucratic barriers.
“HistoricCOS does not advocate locking buildings or places away,” said Colorado Springs planner Daniel Sexton (see page 6) in a press release, “but recommends these resources be integrated into the planning process of the City so that historic resources are vital, flexible, and can participate in the future development of Colorado Springs.”
The authors recommend that “City government must take the lead in ensuring historic resources are protected, advocating greater City financial support for preservation activities, and providing for stronger enforcement of zoning and building regulations. This advocacy includes the creation of more comprehensive and transparent regulations governing development, demolition of historic resources, and increased levels of city staffing devoted to historic preservation.”
Individual citizen empowerment isn’t supported by the process. If, for example, you believe that a particular building or structure should be protected forever from demolition, there’s no path forward, even if you own the property. Best that you trust the wise men and women who created HistoricCOS, and hope that maybe/possibly/someday the property receives some small degree of protection by being designated part of a historic neighborhood.
Of course, you can ask that your property receive local landmark status by getting it listed on the state or national register of historic places, but doing so is an expensive bureaucratic nightmare. It may enhance your property value and you may thereby become eligible for preservation grants, but it won’t offer any lasting protection. If that’s what you want, move to the Old North End (if you can afford it!) whose residents banded together to preserve their neighborhood decades ago, with results that continue to amaze.
But if you live on the Westside, arguably the largest historic neighborhood in Colorado, you’re SOL. It’s a patchwork of different zoning, different uses and cranky contrarians — don’t expect us to come together and make nice!
Yet suppose the city adopted a landmarking ordinance modeled on Denver’s? It’s a long, rigorous and exasperating process, but landmarked buildings are protected forever. You and future owners cannot substantially alter the building or tear it down without the assent of the Denver Landmarks Commission. Thousands of buildings are so protected, either by being individually landmarked or by being in a landmarked district.
My sister, who still lives in the Observatory Park house that she and her late husband bought in 1965, is in the final stage of landmarking her home.
“We can’t get a district now because there have been so many scrape-offs,” she said. “This was my only choice.”
The Denver ordinance also prevents would-be developers from buying a historic property and letting it decay. If they do, the city will step in, fix the property and bill the owner. There’s even a provision that would never fly in Colorado Springs that allows “hostile landmarking” applications by concerned preservationists.
A Colorado Springs ordinance wouldn’t allow that. It would permit my spouse and I, and scores of others, to preserve our historic properties for future generations, not future developers. Our home was built in 1899, and retains most of its original features. Looking through the wavy glass windows, we think about our predecessors and hope that this home will shelter many more generations of quirky Westsiders.
Absent a local landmarking ordinance, the house will come down sooner or later. It sits on multiple lots in an R-2 zone, so an enterprising scrape-off developer could put up multiple structures and make a few bucks.
But not while I’m alive…