May 28, 2021 / Comments (0)

General News

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer
Hilltop Update

May 2021

During the two years since I took office, Council has been presented with three different owner-opposed historic designations: Tom’s Diner, Carmen Court, and the 123 Speer building. An owner-opposed, or “hostile,” historic designation occurs when community members who do not own a certain piece of property file paperwork with the City to have that property designated as a historic landmark. As these applications have made their way through the civic government channels, it has become increasingly clear that the ability to designate a building without the owner’s consent is creating an enormous amount of anger, heartache and confusion in Denver. My office created several (admittedly non-scientific) resident surveys regarding owner-opposed historic designations, and the feedback we received from the community was overwhelmingly against this practice. 

Under Denver’s Historic Preservation ordinance, which was updated in the fall of 2019, there are very specific criteria for what makes a property “historic.” A property must fit into at least three of ten criteria, have maintained its original integrity, and be at least 30 years old or be of exceptional importance. If a property fits that description, it goes through a process that includes review by city staff, a hearing in front of Denver’s Landmark Commission, and a City Council hearing and vote. 

While I strongly support designating Denver’s buildings to preserve important nods to our city’s history, I also believe that we need to find a better balance regarding owner-opposed historic designations. Owner-opposed designations are time-consuming, expensive, emotionally draining on all parties, and can reduce the value of the land if approved. Possibly because of these concerns, City Council has only voted to designate a historic structure that was owner-opposed once.

As of this writing in late May, District 4 Councilwoman Kendra Black and I are researching potential ways to require more investment from residents who want to file an owner-opposed historic designation. Some ideas we have considered include:

  1. Raising the fee to file an historic designation application.
  2. Increasing the number of people who must apply for the designation (currently, only three individuals are required in order to apply).
  3. Require a super-majority of City Councilmembers to approve the owner-opposed designation.
  4. Require properties to fit into more than three of the 10 criteria needed for historic designation to be considered.

We have not yet made any decisions on whether to pursue any of these potential changes to the ordinance and are still in the process of having conversations with stakeholders. Please share your thoughts with me by emailing my office at [email protected].

To learn more about the current process to designate a structure or district as a Denver landmark, go to https://denvergov.org/Government/Departments/Community-Planning-and-Development/Landmark-Preservation/Historic-Designations. 

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