[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]
 September 1, 1999

Historic preservation efforts more powerful under local designations

BOULDER — Historic preservation has power when it’s local. It has power when there is a viable district backing it up.

Finally, the political will to use it correctly must be in place. This all according to a Boulder city planner who also states that historic designations are capable of failure. Ruth McHeyser, Boulder planner, wasn’t talking about local historic districts. It’s the protective powers of national historic designations that are suspect.

“Historic designations are important because they do have teeth and the power of preservation providing the assurance that buildings won’t be demolished,´ said McHeyser. But planners like McHeyser have learned by experience that one exception might be the National Registry of Historic Places.

The National Registry of Historic Places designation, carried by 136 downtown Boulder buildings, didn’t mean much when property owners found the need to demolish some of them. Three years ago 24 historic buildings in downtown Boulder fell to the wrecking ball. “The district percentage of contributing resources (historic buildings) dropped from 80 percent to 62 percent,” McHeyser said. “This was a loss of buildings through both demolition and alterations to other buildings that caused them to lose their historic character.”

Boulder’s historic preservation code, a 24-year-old ordinance, was brought into play to prevent further loss of history. There are now six historic districts in Boulder — one was added July 7. They are the Mapleton Hill area, Chamberlain neighborhood, Floral Park, Chautauqua Park, West Pearl area and downtown Boulder including the Pearl Street Mall.

The Downtown Boulder Local Historic District didn’t come together sooner, McHeyser said, for a variety of reasons. In 1980 it was thought that the National Registry of Historic Places designation would protect it. And although Boulder can create historic districts, it’s preferred that affected property owners agree on the designation, McHeyser said. They didn’t.

In 1996, around the same time a few property owners were making the downtown a dangerous place for historic landmarks, Boulder was addressing issues relative to business growth. But the push came from a group of people who felt responsible and interested in downtown Boulder called the Downtown Alliance. By 1997 they submitted a report acknowledging the importance of insuring preservation of historic places. The report aided in the formation of the Downtown Boulder Local Historic District. Property owners within the district who want to change something now have guidelines to follow.

Not everyone is happy about it, McHeyser said. “It (the downtown historic designation) has received mixed reviews,” she said. “Of 20 alterations, we’ve had one controversial issue.” A historic district designation doesn’t come into play until a business owner or homeowner wants to renovate or construct an addition.

The controversial issue involved an alleyscape’ — a 600-square-foot brick building constructed sometime between 1910 and 1918. It’s located on the north side of the alley between Walnut and Pearl streets and Broadway and 13th Street. The owner would like to tear it down and build a 2,100-square-foot two-story art deco-style building with retail on the first floor and housing on the top floor.

The owner’s request for a landmark alteration certificate has been denied because, according to a memo to the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, the building contributes to the historic character of the downtown through its contribution to the alleyscape. The advisory board consists of five people including citizens and representatives of the design community and one planning board member.

The alleyscape issue is scheduled for a decision before the Boulder City Council in September.

Why preserve?

A historic designation isn’t just a pretty description for old buildings. Jane Jacobs, author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,´ said, “Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and district to grow without them.”

Boulder Planning Technician Neil Holthauser agreed. He said that preserving old buildings provides start-up businesses with a cheaper way of getting off the ground than constructing a new building. It gives the place a sense of history as well.

“Even in residential areas it might give someone a better chance of buying a home,” he said. “But old buildings also remind us of where we came from. Older neighborhoods are more people-friendly. Houses are close to the street and close to one another. There are front porches. The traffic through these areas is slower.”

He pointed out that the latest thinking in planning neighborhoods for new construction is a throwback to designs from the 1940s and 1950s that de-emphasize cars and garbage collection by keeping them away from the front of the homes and relocating them in the alley ways.

More districts

There are hundreds of historic landmarks in Boulder and about nine more potential historic districts that have been surveyed by the Boulder Planning Department.

One area of top interest to the city’s planning department is the Whittier neighborhood where the Whittier School, 2008 Pine St., is already a designated landmark. The proposed district is a three-quarter-mile-long by four block area east of Broadway extending to 22nd Street, including Spruce and Pine streets. The proposed University Hill district is bounded by University Avenue, Broadway, Baseline Road and Grant Street. Another area eyed for historic designation is Highland Lawn bound by University and Arapahoe avenues, 4th Street and Broadway.

The tax advantages to owning such property are considerable. National, state and city sales tax credits are available. Tax credits are also available for construction.

An area can become an historic district by either request of many of the affected property owners, Boulder City Council, the Landmarks Board, or an organization with a recognized interest in historic preservation may nominate a building or district for historic designation. The Planning Department prepares a summary review for the Landmarks Board. The board presents the information at a public meeting. If approved, the ordinance is forwarded to the Boulder City Council. The ordinance is in affect 30 days after their approval comes at the second public hearing.

BOULDER — Historic preservation has power when it’s local. It has power when there is a viable district backing it up.

Finally, the political will to use it correctly must be in place. This all according to a Boulder city planner who also states that historic designations are capable of failure. Ruth McHeyser, Boulder planner, wasn’t talking about local historic districts. It’s the protective powers of national historic designations that are suspect.

“Historic designations are important because they do have teeth and the power of preservation providing the assurance that…

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-reload zone="3"]

Related Content

[copperpress-advertserve-ad-interstitial zone="30"]