We don't envy the task assigned the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee: Recommend a new Steamboat Springs historic preservation ordinance that navigates the fine line between personal property rights and preservation of our city's historic buildings.
Nevertheless, we're disappointed the volunteer committee decided against making it mandatory for property owners of "local landmarks" to comply with preservation rules and guidelines. Failing to protect our most treasured historic structures leaves the door open for their eventual destruction. Once they're gone, it will be too late to correct our mistake.
The Steamboat Springs City Council still has the opportunity to do the right thing and make such compliance mandatory. But even members of the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee say one reason they decided against mandatory compliance was because they doubted council support. The committee members appear to be correct, given the council's preliminary support of the recommended ordinance last week. The only dissention came from several audience members.
The committee was convened to recommend a new historic preservation ordinance as a result of the large number of demolition permit requests for Old Town residences. Historic preservation advocates and the previous City Council expressed concern that the existing ordinance wasn't doing enough to protect historic structures.
There are many positive changes to city historic preservation policies included in the ordinance brought forward by the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee.
Although the current historic preservation ordinance defines historic structures as any buildings more than 50 years old, the new one proposes two levels of historic designation - "local landmark" and "historic resource." Local landmark designation must meet very strict criteria, including that the structure have "overwhelming historic or architectural importance and significance to the entire community." Historic resource designation fits a lower standard that would include some level of historic, architectural or geographic importance.
The new ordinance also would create a Steamboat Springs Register of Historic Places; a Historic Preservation Fund to promote historic preservation and help incentivize the listing of properties on the local historic register; a Historic Preservation Commission with designated powers and duties; and significant penalties and sanctions for property owners of local landmarks or historic resources who disobey the terms of their listing.
We continue to support voluntary consent for the listing of "historic resource" properties. Owners who list their properties would be eligible for benefits such as reduced or waived planning and design fees, regulatory relief and city sales tax rebates on materials used for renovating or restoring their buildings. They also would be eligible for grants, low interest loans and other economic incentives.
But extending voluntary consent to owners of the most historically significant local properties - properties that must meet the strictest criteria for local landmark designation - is a glaring mistake. For a community that places such high value on its heritage, it's hard to imagine widespread support for an ordinance that fails to protect the very few buildings and homes that embody those historic roots.