Protected Area Would Include 32-Block Area of Park Hill
By Neil Funsch
In early October about 80 Park Hill residents spent two hours in the meeting room of the Blessed Sacrament Church on Montview Boulevard. They were there to listen to a presentation by the staff of the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission regarding the steps involved in designating an area of Park Hill as a Denver Landmark Historic District.
The meeting was hosted by a group of Park Hill residents who have formed the Historic Park Hill Committee (HPHC). These neighbors have initiated an exploration of what is involved in protecting the historic character of Park Hill.
A flyer had been distributed by the HPHC to the 32-block area, whose residents will decide if the Historic Designation makes sense to them, inviting them to the meeting to learn the who, what, why, when and how of the process.
Following a slide presentation there was an hour or so of questions about the process and how the guidelines operate. Next a three-member panel comprised of a resident each of the 7th Avenue and Curtis Park Historic Districts and a builder with extensive experience working in historic districts told the audience about how the guidelines worked in their neighborhoods. There followed another 30-minute question and answer period.
The people who are initiating this effort form a very unofficial Historic Park Hill Committee, with about 15 members. The members had felt and heard from other Park Hillians concerns over some of the new developments in the neighborhood. Large new homes popping up in the neighborhood – or worse, right next door – altering their skylines and privacy. Others, crammed into their lots, look out of place in style, size and scale. The unique character, the look and feel of Park Hill is very real and important to many residents.
Designation as a Landmark Historic District is intended to preserve and protect the unique character of Park Hill by ensuring that changes occur thoughtfully and in keeping with the special fabric of the area.
Baron Von Winkler’s Park Hill
One way to view the issue is about the choice presented. On one hand to preserve the historical character of the neighborhood or to let the landscape evolve according to market forces. Both approaches have been tried here in Denver and one can go see in a half hour’s drive from Park Hill exactly what can happen.
Neighborhoods like Baker, Potter Highlands, Montclair and Curtis Park, have preserved their historic character. While neighborhoods such as Hilltop and Washington Park, which may have some beautiful houses, have not maintained their historic character.
The issue to be decided involves one small area of Park Hill: The 32 block area originally platted by that old party animal Baron Von Winkler in 1887. The boundaries include Colorado Boulevard east to Dahlia Street, and Montview Boulevard to 26th Avenue. The rest of Park Hill will be unaffected.
The area contains more than 600 homes. While that is a big number, it is a small component of Greater Park Hill. Other areas will have to decide for themselves what they want to do, if anything. They will have to answer questions not only about their boundaries but also about the historic time period and architectural features they wish to preserve.
Individual areas could have significantly different sets of priorities and guidelines. Preservation may not make sense in all areas. There will be places where scrapes, infills and poptops make sense and it may make further sense to have some generous guidelines in place in those districts so that the development can enhance and not blight the area. The only question now is if this preservation is a good idea for that area defined in the original platting as described above.
In Historically Designated Districts the requirements or limitations (depending upon your point of view) are few but important. If the changes to the exterior of your property require a building or zoning permit, you would need to submit a design review application to Landmark Preservation prior to obtaining a building or zoning permit. The additional review ensures that the changes are done in a complementary manner to the original structure, the surrounding houses, and the neighborhood.
It is important to note that each district’s design guidelines would address its own unique characteristics. So in this case only the architectural styles existing in the limited 32-acre parcel of Park Hill will be considered for preservation.
How the Commission works
Most applications are approved by the Landmark Preservation Committee’s administrative staff without the need of a formal review by the Commission. According to figures from Historic Denver, the LPC’s approval rating for plans submitted in 2013 was 99 percent. Of the total 399 submitted only one was not approved. Of the other 398 designs 325 were approved administratively without need for the formal Landmark Commission Review. Small projects are typically approved in 5-10 business days with quick permits usually in 1 day.
The Landmark Preservation Commission is made up of nine members who serve three-year terms. They are appointed by the mayor and must include the following:
• two recommended by Denver’s American Institute of Architecture
• two recommended by the Colorado Historical Society
• two recommended by the Planning Board
• two at-large members
• one member appointed by the American Society of Landscape Architects
Members must be residents of the city of Denver and receive no compensation.
The Commission was created by the city of Denver’s Preservation Ordinance in 1967. The ordinance is a framework that supports Denver’s historic districts and individual landmarks, and establishes guidelines for historic designation, design review and demolition review. It is an important to note that these functions are managed by the City & County of Denver, its Landmark Preservation Committee, and the Denver City Council.
It is important to note that here are several models of operating in Denver’s current number of 52 districts. Each district decides how it will be set up. Some have chosen to establish an Architectural Advisory Committee to consult with residents and contractors on plans before they are submitted to Landmark. The intent is to figure out how the resident can get what they want within the guidelines. The neighborhood committee can make recommendations to the Landmark Commission but doesn’t have a vote. No such ongoing neighborhood oversight is planned for Park Hill.
The HPHC will follow the procedures laid out by the Landmark commission regarding their case being made for Historical Designation of a section of Park Hill. The process used to designate a structure or district under the local ordinance is much like the processes used in other land use decisions and includes many opportunities for public input. While any member of the neighborhood can submit a nomination for designation, in the form of an application, this is just the beginning of the process, which would require a City Council vote on designation.
Lots of work to be done
As it stands now the Park Hill Committee is just in the initial stages of gathering the data necessary for the initial application. The Committee is recruiting volunteers, as there is lots of work to be done. Much of the footwork will be done in collecting data conducting neighborhood outreach and education. The area needs to be polled and inventoried. The data obtained will be used to establish two specifics. What years will be considered as the period of significance, and what are the area’s architectural styles and characteristics to be protected?
It might have surprised you that there are 52 Historic Districts in Denver. A district can range from as small as The City Pavilion (1990) to as long as the 31-block Montview Blvd and 17th Ave Districts. Yes, those streets (Just the boulevard and not the houses), as well as Forest Parkway have had Landmark District Status since 1997. Ranches, streets, military bases, schools neighborhoods and pioneer ditches have all enjoyed Landmark designations.
One of these districts offers a potential parallel with Park Hill. The Curtis Park District is actually made up of eight different individual districts. The first two were designated in 1995, two more in 1997 and the last four between 2007 to 2011. Each had to be approved by its residents.
The nice thing about this exploration is that there is no rush in this process. The committee feels that any decision is a year and a half away. There is plenty of time to weigh the options. As with any choice there are pros and cons. To get something you usually have to give up something. Fear drives many of these decisions — the fear of change on one side, balanced against the fear of losing freedom of action.
For more information, check out The Landmark Preservation Commission and Historic Denver online, and the Facebook page Park Hill Landmark Designation Discussion.
Neil Funsch is a member of The Landmark Preservation Commission. His views here represent the commission’s. Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. has not taken a formal position on the Landmark Preservation efforts.