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Denver Considers Raising the Bar for Preservation

Driven by recent controversies over efforts to have historic buildings designated as landmarks over owner objections, the city of Denver is looking at revising its historic-landmark designation ordinance to prevent "real-estate terrorism."
November 5, 2012, 8am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Among the proposed changes [PDF] to Denver's 2006 historic-landmark designation ordinance, which was passed "to protect against 'overnight demolitions' by property owners before neighbors were notified," the most controversial element is a plan to quadruple to $1,000 the fee paid to apply for landmark status over owner objection, reports Colleen O'Connor. 

"Supporters argue that higher fees would prevent abuse of historic-preservation rules by people who want to stop development," says O'Connor. "Opponents say that doubling the current cost of $250 is enough to ward off hostile applications, but still be affordable to people in low-income neighborhoods." The standoff has pitted preservationists against property rights advocates.

For City Councilman Charlie Brown, who "had suggested raising the fee to $2,500 to protect against 'frivolous' applications he characterized as 'real-estate terrorism,'" the proposed fee hike doesn't go far enough. "'If you want to jump someone else's claim,' said Brown, using his trademark Old West parlance, 'you should at least be prepared to have some skin in the game. I love old buildings, but I love private property rights even more.'" 

"In addition to an increased fee, the proposed changes would require the application to be signed by three Denver residents," notes O'Connor.

"We really want to make sure there is a level of community support to file a nonowner initiated application, to make sure people are really serious about it," said Charles Jordy Jr., a general contractor who serves on the Landmark Preservation Commission.

"It's really a balancing act," he said. "You want to charge a fee that represents some of your costs, but at the same time if it jumps so dramatically and if it's perceived as some sort of deterrent, that's not right."

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Published on Saturday, November 3, 2012 in The Denver Post
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