Pam Duckworth: Committee helpful

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— I applaud the Pilot & Today for taking a stand in favor of historic preservation. I have served on the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Commission for six years. HPAC currently reviews demolition and building permit applications for all 50-plus-year-old buildings. HPAC may impose a delay of up to 90 days for a demolition, based on how significant the property is, and determines if proposed alterations comply with the city's Design Guidelines. Compliance for residential properties is voluntary, but mandatory for some commercial properties, with variances allowable. In effect, the city is powerless to stop the demolition of historic properties or substantial alterations that result in the destruction of their historic character.

A Citizens Historic Preservation Committee has been contemplating how to improve our historic preservation ordinances. First, the committee is recommending that HPAC review only properties that are historically significant, meaning properties eligible for listing on an historic register based on criteria relating to architecture, historic associations and/or geographic significance. Demolitions and alterations for buildings that are 50-plus years old but do not meet the criteria for listing will not be reviewed by HPAC. That is a welcome change that will reduce the burden for many property owners.

Second, the committee is considering creating a category of local landmarks that are properties so significant to the city that they deserve special protection. I imagine that these landmarks would include buildings such as Howelsen Tow House, the Depot Art Center and the Crawford House. The committee should recommend that these buildings cannot be demolished and that alterations must be done in accordance with applicable historic design guidelines. Anything less will not be preservation of these landmarks.

Third, the committee is considering voluntary protection for properties that are eligible for listing on a city historic register but that aren't local landmarks. If an owner voluntarily lists his or her property, then certain rules regarding demolition and alterations and additions will apply. Unless the rules prohibit demolition and regulate alterations, these resources will be vulnerable to loss, too. To encourage people to list their properties, the committee is proposing that the city increase the economic and other incentives available for these properties.

Finally, the committee still is debating what rules should apply to properties eligible for listing but that are not listed. I have recommended that, at a minimum, the current rules be kept in place because in many cases, HPAC has found that property owners are not aware of the existing voluntary design guidelines or incentives for historic preservation. The current system is a mechanism for bringing guidelines and incentives to the attention of property owners, giving the city an opportunity to document properties before alteration or demolition and giving HPAC an opportunity to present options to the property owner for preservation.

I have urged the committee to consider applying the same rules to all eligible properties regardless whether the owner chooses to list the property, which is very common throughout the country. Many people argue that regulating historic properties interferes with their property rights. Yes, it does, but like other land use regulations, such as zoning laws, it does so for the benefit of the community as a whole, including the property owner and his immediate neighbors. Studies have shown that properties in regulated historic areas increase in value more than properties in similar areas with no regulation. A major industry in Steamboat Springs is tourism, and countless advertisements tout our western heritage and friendly authentic Western town. Without strong preservation tools, we are at risk of losing these aspects of our heritage.

I thank the committee for its work. There was a tremendous learning curve for them; they have been diligent and thoughtful. They deserve full respect from City Council.

Pam Duckworth

Steamboat Springs

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