Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs City Council is heading in the right direction with its ordinance repealing a moratorium on the demolition of potentially historic downtown buildings.
The City Council voted unanimously last week to move the ordinance forward to a second reading. It appears likely the ordinance will pass and lift the moratorium put in place by the previous City Council.
While we agree the historic preservation issue is an important one - and there certainly are some downtown structures worth preserving, we don't believe the rights of existing property owners should be put on hold while the community determines how and if it wants to save buildings and homes that may or may not be historic.
Fortunately, that community process is now under way. The Historic Structure Policy Review Committee met for the first time Nov. 14 and meets again Wednesday. The seven-member citizens group was charged by the previous City Council with evaluating Steamboat's historic preservation policies and determining what, if any, changes are needed. The committee has a deadline of March 31 to present its recommendations to City Council. Those recommendations could come in the form of a new historic preservation ordinance.
There's little doubt the city's current historic preservation ordinance is inadequate. The ordinance states that the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission must review any project that could alter the historic character of any historic structure. Historic structures, according to the ordinance, are any buildings at least 50 years old.
But while HPAC review is mandatory, compliance is not. After a maximum 90-day waiting period on such projects, property owners are free to proceed as they like.
It was the opinion of the previous City Council that too many property owners were doing just that. The moratorium on demolitions was put in place because of an increasing number of demolition permits for Old Town homes.
We understand the previous council's concerns, but we're even more concerned with the notion that property owners who bought their homes without any historic preservation requirements in place should now be forced to delay their projects - and incur increased costs - while the dialogue takes place.
We also believe the job of the volunteer Historic Structure Policy Review Committee (not to be confused with HPAC) could be easier without the moratorium and the divisiveness it created. The committee, which has issue-neutral members as well as those for historic preservation and those for property rights, has a unique opportunity to restore goodwill to the issue and provide a real, community-driven solution. This is the kind of bottom-up decision making that is too often lacking in local government.
Repealing the demolition moratorium is a step in the right direction. Letting the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee complete the task with which it was charged - and then strongly considering its recommendations - should move us even closer to resolution.