Denver's Preservation Ordinance

Click for:  Basics on Denver's Preservation Ordinance

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 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/neighborhood committee 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 for a property that is not already designated 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.  2012 changes to the ordinance, described below, outline specific details of that process.  However the application must be received 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.

Demolition Review
Click for: FAQ on Demolition Review

In 2006 amendments to the Landmark Preservation Ordinance provided greater notice to the community when an un-designated, 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 un-designated historic buildings to examine a wide range of reuse options before pursuing demolition.

How it Works:

1) A property owner elects to apply for a Demolition Permit or Certificate of Non-Historic Status.  A demolition permit provides authorization to demolish a building within 90 days.  A Certificate of Non-Historic Status is a bit different.  It provides certainty regarding a building's potential for historic designation, and if granted, ensures that the owner can receive a demolition permit with no further historic review for a period of five years.  A Demolition Permit is typically used when demolition is imminent, while a Certificate of Non-Historic Status is typically used when an owner is considering what to do with a property.  It can also be a due diligence tool for a prospective buyer if that buyer is interested in demolition in the future.

2) Once a demolition application or CNH is received by the City of Denver, Landmark staff have ten days to determine whether the building potentially meets the criteria for designation as an individual landmark.  To be potentially eligible the building has to meet criteria in two out of three categories, history, architecture and geography.  The building must also retain its historic integrity.  

3) If the building is determined not eligible, the demolition permit or CNH are issued.  If the building is determined potentially eligible the City is required to "post" the demolition application or CNH application notice on the building and notify City Council members and the closest Registered Neighborhood Association.  

4) From the date of the posting a 21-day "clock" begins to tick.  Within this 21 days the community has the opportunity to discuss the property, reach out to the property owner, and consider a course of action.  Within this time frame community members can elect to submit a designation application.  If notice to submit a designation is received within the first 14-days, the 21-day time frame is extended to 28 days.  To submit a designation there must be three applicants who are residents or property-owners in the City of Denver.  The applicants must also pay an $875 fee.

5) If no designation (or intent to file) is submitted, the demolition permit or CNH is issued automatically at the expiration of the 21-day period.  If a designation is submitted the formal designation process begins, including review by the Landmark Preservation Commission, a public hearing at the Commission, and consideration by City Council, with a public hearing.  This process must be completed with 120 days of the original demolition or CNH application date.  If it is not completed the demolition permit or CNH is issued.

While designation action is an option, the true value of the demolition review process is the window of time it provides for conversation.  Historic Denver has created a protocol community members can follow when a building in their neighborhood is posted.  We believe following this protocol can lead to collaborative and positive preservation outcomes.

*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.