Steamboat Springs A committee charged with reviewing the city's historic preservation policies was praised Thursday for tackling an "impossible task," during a public hearing that continued to reveal the difficulty of the group's assignment.
Jim Moylan, chairman of the Historic Structure Policy Review Committee, expressed hope that the committee ultimately will craft an ordinance "we all can live with" - but comments from the public showed little hope that the committee can please everyone.
The issue of historic preservation came to a head last year, when the Steamboat Springs City Council placed an emergency moratorium on demolitions and significant alterations to structures more than 50 years old. Time has done little to cool the passions surrounding an issue that pits private property rights against the protection of community resources.
Moylan began Thursday's hearing with an update of the committee's work thus far. To replace the city's existing policies, Moylan said, the committee plans to recommend that the city create its own historic register and pay for an inventory of all properties in the city, to determine which structures are eligible for listing. Actual listing, however, would be subject to the owner's consent. Only eligible properties that opt to be included on the register would be subject to mandatory design guidelines, Moylan said. He also said the committee will strongly encourage City Council to adopt honorary and financial incentives for properties that meet the design guidelines.
Other recommendations include broadening the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission's role to include education and outreach. The group distanced itself a bit from its consideration of "conservation overlay zones," an idea that came under fire from the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday.
"Maybe we set off some alarm bells that didn't need to be set off at this time," Moylan said. "We need to take a harder look at the existing zoning before taking that next step. What we have now may be enough."
Although the committee is proposing sweeping changes to existing policies, some believe it has not done enough to change the current system of mandatory review and voluntary compliance.
"It's going to fall short of any protection for historic properties," preservationist and former councilman Towny Anderson said. "It's not about owner consent, it's about a community resource. : Let's just call it what it is. We're at voluntary compliance. Everything that you've laid out is still voluntary compliance."
Anderson said historic structures need to be considered just as valuable - and protected as rigorously - as wetlands or winter range for elk. In response, Steamboat Springs resident Troy Brookshire said such areas are defined by science, and are "not based on someone's definition of character."
Recognizing that the committee is moving in a direction more agreeable to Brookshire than himself, Anderson proposed a compromise that would at least mandate the protection of a handful of the city's most historically significant properties.
"If we start high, there's going to be less controversy," Anderson said.
Old Town resident John Fielding agreed and suggested a tiered regulatory approach.
"I think that we're not really protecting the things we need to protect if we make it completely voluntary," Fielding said. "Certainly not all historic properties are created equal. Let's consider some tiered levels of protection based on level of significance."