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City Council Backs Old North End Preservationists

Scant support for anti-regulation argument



A10-year battle between neighborhood preservationists and anti-regulation activists came to a decisive head on Tuesday when City Council voted to make the Old North End the city's first historic preservation district.

Council voted 6-1 to approve a Historic Preservation Overlay ordinance for the 657-residence, 35-block neighborhood of stately mansions and architecturally significant bungalows, erected largely between 1890 and 1910 by the primary beneficiaries of the Cripple Creek gold rush.

In casting the sole dissenting vote, Councilman Lionel Rivera argued that private property rights should take precedence over every consideration except public safety. Councilmen Ted Eastburn and Leon Young were absent.

A magnet for the city's social and economic elite of last century, the Old North End is situated between Colorado College on the south and Penrose Hospital to the north, and between Wood Avenue on the west and Nevada Avenue on the east. Wood Avenue was dubbed "Millionaire Row" because it was home to more than 50 millionaires at the turn of the 20th century.

As noted by city planner Tim Scanlon, the neighborhood was designated a National Historic District in 1982, but there was no way to protect it from development pressures that could significantly alter its historic essence.

"The Old North End is the city's finest collection of turn-of-the-century architectural styles," said ordinance proponent Bert Laney. "Without preservation zoning, it's vulnerable to the kinds of redevelopment that brings clashing patches of old and new. That may be to the benefit of a few property owners in the short term, but in the long run it ruins the neighborhood's property values and historic significance."

Opponents insist, however, that preservation zoning "tramples" individual property rights.

David Benson, who manages "30-some" rental properties in the area, wrote in a May 12 letter to the Historic Preservation Board that "the very concept" of an overlay zone is "a step away from freedom."

"We must defend the right of all property owners to express themselves through their property the way they see fit," he wrote. "Beauty is and always will be in the eye of the beholder."

David Zook denounced the ordinance as "a heavy-handed violation of private property rights." Arguing that Council has no right to impose design standards on neighbors who don't want it, Zook petitioned for a provision that would allow residents to "opt out."

Longstanding battle

This battle between preservationists and anti-regulation activists has been waging in the Old North End for the past decade.

The city created the Historic Overlay Ordinance in 1988, and preservation proponents petitioned for it to be applied to the Old North End in 1990. The arguments for and against it were nearly identical to those driving the present debate.

Opponents protested that the neighborhood has managed to retain its character without government interference, and that they have a constitutional right to do anything they want with their property.

North Enders supported the 1991 ordinance bid by a margin of 291-70, but Council gave it the thumbs down by 4-3.

The issue was revived last year in response to the development boom and downtown expansion of recent years. Preservationists formed an Overlay Zoning Committee last fall and held a series of presentations and public meetings to discuss the ordinance and to solicit public comment.

Second time around

Tuesday's passage means that structural alterations requiring a building permit must also be approved by the city's Historic Preservation Board, a seven-member, Council-appointed citizen body tasked with preserving the neighborhood's historic appearance and character.

Proponents say that will prevent houses of historical and architectural significance from being demolished or altered in ways contrary to the neighborhood's traditional character.

Laney claims the Old North End is vulnerable to the kinds of development that displaced such city landmarks as the old Antler's Hotel and the Chief Theater.

"A lot of properties in this neighborhood would be more valuable to developers without the larger mansions and smaller bungalows," he argued. "All over the country, beautiful historic structures are being displaced by parking lots and modern buildings with lots of smoked glass and chrome. We want to keep it from happening here."

Bob Loevy said the ordinance is needed. "Residential housing gets its value from the neighborhood and surrounding houses. That's why you can't put a manufacturing plant in an area zoned residential, and that's why the Supreme Court has upheld zoning as a way for government to protect residential neighborhoods."

Loevy, who teaches political science at Colorado College, said the Overlay Zoning Committee mailed postcards to all 657 North End property owners to solicit their views on the ordinance. Of that number, 415 were mailed back in, with 340 voting Yes and 75 voting No.

"A local election typically generates a 10-15 percent voter turnout, and this was a 63 percent turnout," he said. "In political nomenclature, a victory topping 60 percent is termed a landslide, and our margin was 82 percent. This kind of unanimity is unheard of in local issues."

North End resident Chuck Baker argues, however, that the ordinance constitutes unacceptable governmental intrusion.

Baker has devoted segments of his KVOR radio talk show to attacking the ordinance. He said in a Monday interview that "North End property values have appreciated considerably in recent years without government telling us what to do. My property is mine to maintain as I see fit. I don't want anybody telling me what I can or can't do to it."

What is restricted

"The overlay, is aimed at architectural preservation," Scanlon told Council.

"Residents will still be able to make any interior changes they want, paint their house any color they choose, and landscape however they like. Any structural alteration that would be visible from the street, though, will have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Board to ensure that it fits in with the neighborhood's historical character."

"Without this ordinance," added Haney, "the Old North End is a sitting duck for development."

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