Experts claim protecting historic structures boosts economies

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— One of the most common arguments against historic preservation in Steamboat Springs - that it would have an adverse effect on property values - was challenged during a panel discussion on the topic Friday night.

"There is not a case recorded of values going down," Dan Corson told a large crowd at Centennial Hall. He said heritage tourism makes up 40 percent of Colorado's total tourism industry.

Corson, a Colorado Historical Society official, was speaking at a community historic preservation conversation jointly sponsored by Partners in Preservation, the city of Steamboat Springs, Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, Historic Routt County and Main Street Steamboat Springs. Jim Lindberg of the mountain and plains office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Tim McHarg, a former Steamboat city planner currently working in Durango, joined Corson at the event.

Historic preservation has become a hot-button political issue in recent months. The city's current historic preservation ordinance is one of mandatory review, but voluntary compliance. Much of the debate has centered on whether the city should mandate preservation of historically significant structures.

In September, the city enacted a moratorium banning the demolition of structures deemed historic, while it assigns a citizen committee to re-evaluate the city's current historic preservation ordinance.

Throughout the debate, some concerned owners of old homes have claimed a more restrictive ordinance would make their homes less attractive to potential buyers. Lindberg claimed the opposite.

"The higher the level of protection, the higher the property value," he said.

The panelists said preservation ordinances provide a level of certainty that communities will retain their character, making them more appealing. In discussing Durango's experience developing a historic preservation ordinance, McHarg said the city's previous standards would have allowed "McMansions" to destroy the character of historic neighborhoods.

"The fabric of these neighborhoods begins to fray," McHarg said. "What you end up with is a lot of houses on steroids."

Lindberg said historic preservation is a challenging issue, but one Steamboat and other cities must address.

"These are all really hard questions," Lindberg said. "I think a lot of communities have found they're not ready for this."

Following the panel discussion, the audience was invited to break up into three focus groups to brainstorm ideas. The audience reconvened later to share their perceptions.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210

or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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