Jul 26, 2021 - News

Denver looks to change historic preservation rules

A photo of an apartment building development going up behind an old red-bricked historic building

A downtown development project in 2018 near the historic Denver Hose Company No. 1 building. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Changes may be coming to the way Denver preserves historic buildings citywide.

Why it matters: The use of historic designation is becoming a go-to tool for Denverites who oppose high-density development projects in a city aiming to strike a balance between preservation and sustainable urban growth.

  • The city's current landmark designation process allows essentially anyone to apply for historic status, whether they own the building or not.
  • The rules are spurring more owner-opposed applications for historic status rather than owner-initiated ones, proponents of the changes tell Axios.

What's happening: Council member Kendra Black is exploring a proposal that would make it harder to push forward owner-opposed designations by requiring application approval from a supermajority of 10 council members, rather than the standard seven.

  • Architects and preservationists support raising the bar, Black told Axios.

Context: A recent debate over preserving the Denver7 news building in Governor's Park is giving weight to Black's plans, which she floated in 2019 but failed to push forward without the backing of enough of her colleagues.

  • Three residents recently pushed to preserve the Denver7 building as a historic landmark to fight its demolition — despite Denver7 management's opposition to historic status.
  • One of the residents, David Lynn Wise, told Axios the group was "not out to stop the redevelopment nor the addition of 600 units of housing to the Denver market."
  • In May, the City Council unanimously rejected the application, and Developer Property Markets Group recently bought the space for $35 million with plans to build a new apartment complex in its place, BusinessDen reports.

The other side: Owner-opposed designations remain "extremely rare," said Annie Robb Levinsky, the head of Historic Denver.

  • In 2020, the city approved more than 500 demolition applications, with 21 of those properties identified as potentially historic. None of the applications for historic status were opposed by the property owners, Levinsky told Axios.

What else: Striking a balance between preserving Denver's past while making room for its future appears at the forefront of the Hancock administration's agenda.

  • Last week, the administration announced it was moving to hire the city's first head of urban design, who will address the challenges of losing too many historic buildings to rapid urban development.

What's next: Black says she is continuing talks with architects, historians and community members to help her craft legislation. She's also looking into new strategies to boost "adaptive reuse" of Denver's historic buildings, she tells Axios.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a comment from David Lynn Wise.


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