Editor’s Note: Last month’s update on Park Hill’s proposed Historic Landmark Designation efforts drew several responses, both in favor and against. The original story – Bungalows, Foursquares and the Park Hill Porch – can be read at greaterparkhill. org/2016/07/bungalows-foursquares-park-hill-porch/
Below are letters in support, and letters in opposition, of historic designation.
Ugly In Principle
Over the Fourth of July, I was thinking about freedom of choice. I am generally not in favor of historic districts, as I generally don’t like to consider what I can or cannot do, particularly when it comes to where I live. Additionally, historic requirements can be stringent. The residents are giving up freedom of choice to work on aspects of their homes, or be forced to purchase more expensive construction to maintain historical appearances.
I happen to live in the proposed Historic Landmark Designation area. We love our block, our neighbors and community. I have lived in Park Hill for 18 years. My wife and I chose this neighborhood for the beauty brought by the history, mature trees and beautiful and diverse architecture.
Unfortunately, there are now two new houses at the end of my block. These houses are ugly in construction and ugly in principle. Granted, the two houses that they replaced were not historic or particularly attractive. But these houses are two to three times the size of their forerunners. These structures appear to utilize every square foot of allowable building area on the property. The architecture that I see focuses on the most cost effective finishes (shallow eaves, EIFS siding) with a color palate comprised of several shades of tan.
The developers of the first house are asking a reported $1.5 million for the property. I don’t know whether these developers live in Park Hill, Denver or even Colorado. Regardless, I can see why they are asking this price. Because of the beauty of the neighborhood, these developers knew they could get a high price for their investment.
After getting over the physical shock of this building, I realized why this house is ugly in principle. The developers are stealing from the neighborhood for their own benefit. The building’s bland oppressive architecture detracts from the Park Hill’s historic nature and value, while at the same time, the developers profit from the buildings installation. If this building sells quickly, no doubt they will continue to look for property in this market and continue this trend.
So the question I have come to is, do you want a big ugly house next to your house or are you willing to negotiate and support the Historical Landmark Designation covenants? If you value the historical architecture, I recommend supporting Historic Landmark Designation efforts before a big ugly house is built on your block, or next to your cherished home.
With the passage of this initiative, at least a small portion of our community’s architecture may be preserved for future residents who value Park Hill’s history and beauty.
Hank Jenkins, Park Hill
FAQs From Organizers
The Historic Park Hill Committee has continued outreach to residents in the proposed historic district. The committee has spoken with over 60 percent of the area residents, and is recording signatures indicating support, opposition, or undecided positions. Here are a few questions that have come up during the process, and our responses:
Will Historic District designation lower property values?
Studies have shown property values in a Historic District perform better than surrounding unprotected areas. The 2011 economic study The Economic Power of Heritage & Place conducted by Clarion Associates of Colorado analyzed the economic impacts of historic preservation in Colorado over the past 20 years. The study found Denver residential property values increased or stayed the same as compared to values in nearby undesignated areas.
Is living in a historic district similar to living in a neighborh ood governed by an HOA?
No. HOAs have fees and rules governing a wider set of design issues, including paint color and vegetation. Historic districts have no fees and design review is limited to exterior projects requiring a permit from the city.
What say will my neighbors have about what I can do to my house?
Design review is conducted by the Denver Landmark Commission, which includes nine members appointed by the mayor. The commissioners have expertise in areas relevant to their duties, such as architecture, history, and construction. The commission conducts design review according to Denver’s landmark ordinance and adopted design guidelines. While some historic districts have formed voluntary advisory committees, these committees only provide comments. In the end, the LPC makes all design review decisions. The HPHC has no plans to form an advisory committee.
Doesn’t Denver’s 2010 zoning code protect Park Hill from out-of-scale changes that have impacted other neighborhoods?
Denver’s 2010 zoning code designates most of the proposed designation area as Urban (U)-Single Unit (SU), with lots on the edges given U-SU-E designation and internal blocks given U-SU-C designation. This requires a minimum lot size of 7,000 square feet and 5,500 square feet, respectively. Both districts main building form permitted is the Urban House form, a 2 1⁄2 story form with maximum 30-35 foot height depending on lot width. This form is permitted in similar zone districts across the city. East Washington Park is also U- SU-C and many homes there have been demolished in recent years. While not yet as pronounced in Park Hill, there have been losses both inside and outside the proposed district. There is no reason the same thing couldn’t happen in Park Hill.
Will the local historic district decrease the architectural diversity of Park Hill?
The architectural diversity of the proposed district would be protected by the designation and new contemporary style homes could be constructed if non-contributing structures were demolished or on vacant lots. The new construction would have to meet design guidelines for infill. To see some examples of modern infill in a historic district, Potter Highlands and Curtis Park are great places to explore.
Will local historic district designation make Park Hill more exclusionary?
Historic designation is the best way to ensure responsible and incremental change, and to protect historic homes from demolition, particularly the smaller homes which are most at risk. When smaller homes are destroyed they are typically replaced with significantly more expensive homes, causing Park Hill to become less economically diverse.
Is this effort going to expand and make all of Park Hill a historic district?
Park Hill has nearly 10,000 homes from many different and important eras. As a result several sections of Park Hill meet the criteria for local landmark designation. However, the effort underway is only for the original Park Hill subdivision. If other areas were interested in historic designation, residents would have to initiate their own effort.
Additional information available at his- toricparkhill.org, historicdenver.org/re- sources, or denvergov.org/preservation. Please let us know your opinion by signing our petition at www.historicparkhill. org.
Rebecca Rogers, Park Hill
Shane Sutherland, Park Hill
Editor’s Note: The authors are members of the Historic Park Hill Committee, and live with their families in the proposed historic designation area.
Park Hill Already Protected
The Historic Park Hill Committee is pursuing historic district designation for the original Park Hill subdivision, from the east side of Colorado Boulevard to Dahlia, and the north side of Montview to 26th Avenue.
Supporters claim increased property values, and homes can’t be torn down. The opposition claims higher construction costs, a lengthy review process, and loss of property rights. Nevertheless, this designation is permanent, with an additional neighborhood design review committee possible in the future.
Doesn’t current zoning protect Park Hill from the condos, high-rises, and commercial infill that developed in the Highlands, Hilltop, and Cherry Creek? Yes. Read it on www.denvergov.org. Is landmark preservation needed to prevent demolition of homes? Absolutely not. There’s an application process to oppose demolition of an “historic” structure in Denver. We have the tools to protect our neighborhood already.
The Historic Park Hill Committee identifies smaller homes as those at risk of being demolished, yet the effort by the HPHC is focused south of 26th. Why do we so suddenly and desperately need to steal property rights from all to protect a few “at risk” homes? That’s a slippery question.
Supporters claim landmark designation will preserve the socio-economic diversity of the neighborhood. A Wikipedia search of Park Hill includes the 2010 census data, revealing a shocking lack of diversity in the proposed area for landmark status. The dairy cows here before us were more integrated. Landmark status will polarize the current socio-economic demographics in an irresponsible manner.
Accessory Dwelling Units were opposed by the neighborhood when the 2010 zoning law was written. ADUs provide affordable options for aging-in-community of retirees and rentals for young professionals that this neighborhood, and city, so badly need. Where was the HPHC in 2010 during the zoning law revision process, or in 1967 when Denver’s City Council first enacted the Denver Landmark ordinance?
The Historic Park Hill Committee has not acknowledged any specific number of opposition signatures that would kill the submission of the application. Telling. There’s plenty of time to educate yourself before signing an application, or change your mind if you already signed one.
Matthew Fitzpatrick, AIA, Park Hill
Fear Of McMansions Unfounded
The Historic Park Hill movement was triggered by fear that unscrupulous developers would come in, raze old homes and build McMansions in their stead.
By declaring a district a historic district, zoning laws will remain in effect, but houses that in our case were built before 1954 cannot be razed any more (unless severe economic hardship can be proven), changes to the outside of the house can only be made after approval by the Landmark Commission, a panel of mayor-appointed people. The review committee has guidelines but its decision is binding, cannot be repealed and not arbitrated.
Is the threat of developers moving into Park Hill substantial enough to warrant the suspension of certain property rights of more than 600 property owners?
As of mid-July there were 12 properties for sale in the proposed district (source: www.realtor.com). Ten properties listed at more than $1 million, two properties between $900,000 and $1 million, and two properties at $500,000 to $600,000. The properties above $900,000 are already as large as zoning allows, the two lower priced properties are on four city lots and could be expanded but would not yield the profit that builders could make farther north in Park Hill. The fear of McMansions popping up all over the designated Historic District is therefore unfounded.
Historic District advocates quote Curtis Park as an example why the designation should be sought for Park Hill. The situation in Curtis Park was very different: small low priced houses on lots that could be combined and a zoning that allowed multifamily dwellings. A Historic District designation was the only way to preserve the character of the district.
Homeowners who live in the proposed district have done an exceptional job maintaining and curating a wonderful vibrant area. The perceived need of a Historic District is a slap in all our faces, telling us that we need oversight in how to deal with our properties.
Property rights are a cornerstone of American society and democracy and we should not give them up lightly. Please vote no on the petition.
Elisabeth Staerz, Park Hill
Taste Is Very Personal
I am writing to express my dismay with the current discussion to designate a segment of Park Hill as “historic” and the subsequent implications of this designation.
I live in the catchment area and see it as antithetical to what attracted me to the neighborhood. The qualities of acceptance, tolerance and friendly open-minded people were the big draw. It seems inherently against this ethos to subject neighbors to a scrutiny that they did not sign up for.
Taste is very personal and subjective and should not be dictated by the judgment of others. It saddens me to see the very best quality of Park Hill being diluted; its tolerance and open arms. We are better than that!
Gretchen Mueller, Park Hill