Proposed Changes to Denver's Preservation Ordinance


Background


Denver’s preservation ordinance* has been an effective tool for more than 45 years, helping to protect and promote historic places in our community and preserve the vital character that makes Denver unique and vibrant. Preservation in Denver is also an economic success story- driving revitalization efforts from LoDo to Uptown and our core residential neighborhoods.

The city’s preservation ordinance (Chapter 30 DRMC) enables Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) to recommend structures and districts for designation by the Denver City Council. The ordinance also sets forth the criteria for determining which structures or districts are eligible for designation. Unlike the National Register of Historic Places or the ordinances used in most cities, Denver’s ordinance requires a high benchmark by insisting that a structure or district meet criteria in two out of three categories (instead of just one). These categories include history, geography and architecture. Additionally, a structure must be at least thirty years old or have extraordinary significance to be considered.

The process used to designate a structure or district under the local ordinance is much like the processes used in other land use decisions and includes many opportunities for public input. While any member of the community can submit a nomination for designation, in the form of an application, this is just the beginning of the process, which includes:

1) Review by Planning Department staff and the LPC to determine if the application is complete and meets the criteria
2) A public hearing before the LPC on the merits of the application and recommendation to council if warranted
3) Denver Planning Board review of the application with particular attention to existing city plans
4) Review by Council’s Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee (LUTI) and determination of whether the full Council will consider the matter
5) First reading and second reading with a public hearing before City Council
6) City Council decision to designate or not weighing all factors and impacts

In cases in which a property owner applies for demolition or a certificate of non-historic status the same process occurs only if the staff of the Landmark Commission determines a property is eligible for designation and if the community brings forward a designation application.  Recent changes to the ordinance, described below, outline specific details of that process.  However the application must be recieved by the 21st or 28th day after the posting and a full resolution to the process must occur before 120 days expires, otherwise the demolition permit of certificate of non-historic status is granted automatically.

Recent Changes


In 2006 amendments to the ordinance provided greater notice to the community when a potential historic landmark faces demolition. These amendments were crafted by a group of stakeholders that included neighbors, preservationists, developers, realtors, planners and elected officials. The amendments were designed to put a stop to “surprise” demolitions that caught neighbors, city council members and preservationists without warning. The amendments create a demolition review period and provide a way for community members and property owners to discuss the long-term impact of demolition before a resource is lost forever.

Historic Denver believes in the principles underlying the demolition review ordinance, because such notification provides an opportunity for the community to discuss the merits of the property, the impact of demolition and possible alternatives. Most importantly, the demolition review provision ensures that a truly significant and valuable historic resource is not lost without reasonable consideration. The provision encourages owners of undesignated historic buildings to examine a wide range of reuse options before pursuing demolition.

However, after five years it is fair to revisit the demolition review process and related designation provisions and consider making improvements. Over the summer of 2012 members of City Council called for this type of review and the Department of Community Planning & Development responded with a set of proposals first presented on July 24th. 


Our Role


Historic Denver worked actively to provide expertise and feedback on this proposal, including hosting our own community forum on the issue on October 10. Historic Denver further testified at every public hearing on the matter to make sure the preservation voice was heard. We are grateful to the many community members who joined us in this effort. Over the course of four separate hearings not a single member of the public expressed opposition to the basic tenets of the ordinance, and all expressed the importance of maintaining a strong and fair ordinance that continues to value preservation and provide the mechanisms for continued preservation success in Denver. Several amendments and tweaks were made to the proposals based on Historic Denver's feedback and we are proud of the role we played in this important conversation.

Specific details on the Historic Denver's Position:
 
First, Historic Denver is comfortable with the idea that the application fee for a designation to which the owner does not consent could be higher than the fee in situations in which the owner does consent. A fee that is double the owner-consent level (currently $250) is appropriate. However, a fee in excess of what it costs the city to process such applications is not warranted.

Second, Historic Denver supports the requirement that applications without owner consent have three applicants (and that each applicant be a resident or property owner in the City & County of Denver). This will not only make the designation application stronger in the eyes of council members, but also help the applicants build a wider level of support early in the process. Historic Denver itself remains eligible to be an applicant as are other community organizations.

Third, Historic Denver supports eliminating delay in the designation process by allowing staff to set public hearings on designations so that applications move forward for community, Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC), and City Council resolution more quickly.

Fourth, Historic Denver believes that including consideration of historic context and integrity as part of the LPC’s considerations will make deliberations at the LPC more thorough and strengthen applications. This encourages a comprehensive conversation about a structure at the LPC level so that once applications reach City Council there is a clear understanding that the property (and application) has merit. The definitions for historic context and integrity should be applied relative to local history, architecture and geography. In some circumstances Historic Denver is equipped and willing to aid organizations or individuals preparing designation applications in order to relieve any additional burden posed by these additions.

Fifth, Historic Denver supports eliminating demolition review for single-story garages, sheds and other small accessory buildings on un-designated properties in order to reduce administrative burdens and red-tape. Historic Denver recommended to LPC that this change apply only to single-story accessory buildings, rather than all secondary structures, to ensure continued review for potentially significant secondary structures such as Carriage Houses. The LPC concurred and made adjustments to the proposal as a result. It is important to note that the LPC will continue to review the proposed demolition of all secondary structures associated with designated properties.

Sixth, Historic Denver supports the adoption of an LPC policy to clarify the difference between a “structure” for designation and a “district” for designation, particularly in instances in which single buildings sit on multiple parcels or multiple buildings sit on a single parcel.

Historic Denver also strongly agrees that historic resources should be considered early in General Development Plan (GDP) proceedings. This could eliminate the need for later repetitive review processes for the owner and encourage better dialogue about the incorporation of historic resources as assets in redevelopment efforts. 

On October 10, 2012 Historic Denver hosted a forum so that the community at-large could also weigh in on the proposal. As a result of the discussion at that forum Historic Denver made an additional suggestion to the LPC regarding the time frame related to designation applications submitted in response to demolition or certificate of non-historic postings. Historic Denver recommended that potential designation applicants be required to file an intent to submit an application by the 21st day after the public posting, but that the actual designation application not be due until day 28. This provides the applicant team with some additional time to complete a comprehensive application and also provides a window of opportunity for the applicants and property owners to meet to discuss the situation, which at times has led to win-win outcomes. Ultimately City Council agreed with this concept and this provision was included in the Ordinance, although the preliminary notification date was set at 14 days.
 

The Outcome


On December 3, 2012 the Denver City Council officially adopted the revisions to the ordinance.  In summary these revisions include:
  • Requiring that non-owner-initiated designation applications be filed by a minimum of three Denver residents or property owners, or the Community, Planning and Development manager or a City Council member. This provision raises the level of community involvement required to submit an application, and such buy-in may lead to greater rates of success. 

 

  • Limiting Landmark Preservation staff review of demolition permits for undesignated properties to primary structures and large accessory structures, rather than requiring review of even small sheds and out-buildings. This DOES NOT CHANGE the process for review of structures, including secondary structures, located within designated historic districts or structures considered part of an individually designated landmark.

 

  • Requiring that non-owner applicants file a landmark designation application within 21 days of demolition posting by the city, or within 28 days if a notice of intent to file is sent. This provision provides applicants with more time, while providing property owners with a “heads-up.” 

 

  • Allowing the Landmark Preservation Commission to consider historic or physical integrity and relative significance of a structure or district when reviewing an application for historic designation - factors the commission was not empowered to consider until now. 

 

  • Providing for other administrative changes that streamline the process and reduce repetition in the process.

Read the text of the Revised Ordinance

The Fee


On December 4, 2012 the Interim Manager of Community Planning & Development, Molly Urbina, announced that the fee for designations to which the owner does not consent would be $875, up from the $250 of recent years.  The level of the fee was a hotly debated part of the conversation, although not formally part of the ordinance as City Council typically delegates fee decisions to the Manager of Community Planning & Development.  Several councilmembers expressed interest in fees well over $1,000.  Recognizing the logic behind a differential fee structure for such applications, Historic Denver and much of the public advocated for an increase to $500 or to not more than it costs the city to process such applications.   $875 is a reasonable outcome.  Historic Denver is currently preparing a fund to help cover the costs of these fees for worth endeavors, although we recognize the designation without owner consent tool should be used with care and caution.



Click for:
FAQ on Demolition Review
Basics on Denver's Preservation Ordinance

*As a reminder, Historic Denver is an education and advocacy non-profit and the Preservation Ordinance is implemented by the City & County of Denver.  However, Historic Denver does take an active interest in the preservation policies and issues affected the ordinance that protects so much of our built environment.