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The cost of a piece of history

Old Town prices put pressure on historic homes

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Soldiers in the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps lived in this garage on Third Street while training in Steamboat during World War II.

— The rising cost of Old Town real estate raises the likelihood the modest homes that make up Steamboat Springs' historic neighborhoods will be targets of redevelopment.

The city's Historic Preserva-

tion Advisory Commission recently imposed a 90-day waiting period on the owner of a home on Third Street who is seeking a demolition permit. It is the longest waiting period ever imposed by the commission.

Laureen Schaffer, historic preservation specialist with the city of Steamboat Springs, said the house and its detached garage have historic significance.

Owner Roy Townsley said he is sympathetic with the commission's goals, but after weighing the possibility of refurbishing the home at 358 Third St., he has decided instead to build a new home in a Victorian style.

"I'm a licensed engineer with a structural engineering practice here," Townsley said. "It would be difficult to remodel and gain the advantages one would seek. The foundation is falling down, and fills with water every spring. There is an old coal-burning fireplace and coal-burning furnace that would have to be taken out. There's also an illegal second story apartment.

"There's the question, 'at what point of the house's life do I focus on to remodel?' I decided it would be easier to rebuild a home that is historically relevant in Colorado mountain towns."

As downtown property values rise, Schaffer said, the commission anticipates seeing demolition permit applications for more older downtown homes.

Doug Labor of Buyer's Resource Real Estate in Steamboat said the current median asking price among eight single-family homes for sale in Old Town is $635,000. The median selling price in Old Town last year was $569,318, Labor added, and the average selling price was $640,672.

The city's historic preserva-

tion ordinance does not give it the ability to block the demolition of older homes. However, city councilmen Towny Anderson and Steve Ivancie proposed Jan. 16 to strengthen the ordinance. They would like to craft a tighter definition of "historic structure" and add language that affords more protection for buildings that are deemed eligible for listing on an approved historic register - national, state or local.

"If the ordinance is revised to authorize the denial of a permit for demolition of an eligible historic structure, HPAC would request reconstruction as a remedy in the event of demolition without a permit," the two councilmen wrote in a recent memo.

The existing ordinance allows the commission to review demolition permits for buildings 50 years or older. Upon reviewing the historic and architectural qualities of the structure in question, the commission must impose a waiting period from one to 90 days.

During 2006, Schaffer said, four residential demolitions for buildings older than 50 years were reviewed by the commission. The owners of those structures saw delays on their demolition projects of one, 30 (in the case of two buildings) and 75 days. The one-day delay implies the commission attached virtually no historic value to the structure.

Schaffer said the home, notable for its un-stylized wood-frame construction and side-gabled architecture, is one of Old Town's last remaining unaltered homes dating from before World War II.

Townsley's home was built in 1938 by Judge Steele and his wife, Helen, according to a historical survey (the survey was unable to ascertain the first name of the judge).

Schaffer said the historical survey revealed that, at one time, the detached garage was used to house soldiers who were here training for World War II. That piece of history, she said, made the home historically significant in the view of the commission and worthy of the maximum delay.

Ironically, Townsley said it was he who described the history of the home to the consultant conducting the survey.

Schaffer said the intent behind the demolition delay is to allow time to work with the owners to see if they would consider an alternative to demolishing the structure. For example, Schaffer said the owners of a small home on Oak Street were persuaded to add on to the structure rather than demolishing it, as planned.

"It wasn't a win, but it was a compromise," that allowed the façade facing the street front to be preserved, she said.

Townsley said that in his view, the delay is punitive. However, he said the 90 days would not inconvenience him because he isn't planning to begin construction for about 120 days.

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