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Denver ordinance pitting property owners against neighbors could become thing of the past

The current process allows for people who don't have ownership over a building to apply for landmark status.

DENVER — A Denver ordinance that pits property owners against neighbors could become a thing of the past, though the proposed change could mean Denver City Council would have more wide-ranging power over what is and isn't considered a landmark.

Owner-opposed landmark designations have become more frequent in Denver. The process allows for at least three people who don't have ownership over a building to apply for landmark status to save it from developers. This can make it tough for the owner of that building, who may want to develop the land that building is on and make a profit.

That was the case, for example, when the owner of Tom's Diner wanted to sell the building on Colfax to fund his retirement. In June 2019, a group of Denver residents filed an application to designate Tom's Diner as a historic landmark.

PREVIOUS: Plans for the future of Tom's Diner preserve the past

The group eventually withdrew its application for historic status, and the owner and developer announced they would redevelop the building while trying to preserve its history.

It's not the only instance of the city receiving an owner-opposed historic landmark application. Denver City Council said it has received 18 of them since 2010. The only one ever approved against the property owner's wishes was for Beth Eden Church, which used to be on Lowell Boulevard.

It's now a mixed-use apartment building that had to maintain the church's design integrity.

City Council knows these designations can be a problem, as they put owners at financial risk and they can be misused to prevent development. On the other hand, they are an outlet for neighbors to address concerns about gentrification and the erasure of city history.

City Council also said the number of owner-initiated requests has not increased in recent years. Solutions for that, according to a city council presentation, including waiving the fee for these applications or coming up with a faster permitting process.

Denver City Council is also pitching several possible adjustments to the owner-opposed permits.

The first is getting rid of owner-opposed applications, but allowing the Community Planning and Development Department or city councilmembers, who may have certain biases toward the buildings in their districts, to apply for historic status for buildings.

A second suggestion requires a super majority of council members to approve owner-opposed landmarks.

A third is to require a historic preservation organization to be a part of any application.

Council is also considering requiring compensation if an owner loses out financially from a landmark status being approved.

Councilwoman Kendra Black, Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer and Councilman Kevin Flynn are pitching these ideas to the rest of council.

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