Saturday, February 7, 2004
The city of Steamboat Springs recently was named as one of the first eight communities in the country to receive a Preserve America Community designation by first lady Laura Bush as part of her initiative to reward and encourage historic preservation.
We should all be very proud of this designation and proud of all the preservation efforts that have been undertaken by the city, the county and all the nonprofit organizations and individuals in the area who are involved with historic preservation. We received this award because we have accomplished a lot as a community, but there is a lot more that can be done. Instead of resting on our laurels, we should be energized to do more to preserve our community and its history.
The city is studying historic district designation for Lincoln Avenue. Such designations should be embraced by all the property owners in the potential district. The designation will enable them to receive tax and other financial benefits from rehabilitating their properties, and it also will help keep our "Main Street" the unique and user-friendly place that it is. This appeals to tourists and should be appealing to residents.
The city adopted design guidelines a few years ago as a tool for property owners to use in rehabilitating or adding onto existing properties in Old Town that are 50 or more years old and in building new properties near older properties. These guidelines are voluntary. Their purpose is to provide advice about how best to complete a project in a way that is sympathetic to the existing property and its immediate neighborhood. Unfortunately, in many cases, property owners fail to abide by the guidelines.
I have heard people say, "What's there to preserve in Old Town? It's just a bunch of little old houses." Well, yes, that's what is worth preserving in Steamboat -- a lot of little old houses. Those houses reflect Steamboat's heritage and history. Steamboat wasn't a rich mining town like Aspen or Telluride or Leadville that had major booms which led to building lots of fancy large houses. Steamboat developed over many decades, and the houses reflect the architecture of the times they were built and the economic status of the builders and the residents. A lot of them are significant because of the characters who lived in them. When we tear them down to build mini-mansions or add on and up for 5,000 square feet of living space, we lose our unique character and begin to look like lots of other cities and towns throughout the country.
There's nothing wrong with big houses and modern architecture, but their place is not in Old Town. Fortunately, there is a lot of land in the Yampa Valley and there are lots of places to build. For the sake of preserving our past, I would encourage people who want big, new houses to build them some place other than in Old Town, and I would encourage people who live in Old Town who need to expand or upgrade their homes to do so in accordance with the design guidelines. That may mean some personal sacrifice in the name of a great community objective of historic preservation, but that, in and of itself, can be very satisfying. After all, we are all just temporary custodians of the properties we "own" today, and we should preserve as much as we can for future generations.
Pamela A. Duckworth