JEFFERSON PARK — Late Monday night November 21, Denver City Council chose to deny landmark status to the historic boyhood home of brothers Burnham and Merrill Hoyt, two Denver architects whose combined works include Red Rocks, the State Capitol, the Denver Press Club and the Denver Library.
The 7-4 decision will lead to the owner, Judith Battista, receiving a certificate of non-historic status for 2849 W 23rd Avenue, which allows for the home to be demolished. The future buyers of her home and the home next to it required Battista to garner the certificate before the purchase, signaling that the 120-year-old historical site will soon succumb to the development boom that has reshaped Jefferson Park in the last few years.
Councilmen Rafael Espinoza, District 1, initiated the landmark process after Battista filed for the non-historic status and community members stepped forward to do it on their own. “Having experienced firsthand distortions of truth and justice as an applicant of a community-led landmark application and the personal toll that it had on my co-applicants, when I was contacted by the community about the desire to preserve the Hoyt House, I made the decision to act in my capacity to put forth the application,” said Espinoza. “Thus, allowing the structure to be considered on its merits with regard to the criteria and avoiding hostility being leveled on community members.”
Before the hearing, Battista stated that she was willing to sell the home to the highest bidder, whether that was preservationists or developers.
While Espinoza and Historic Denver Inc. found buyers interested in purchasing the home “as is” and developing it as a historic site, Battista acknowledged that she did not allow those potential buyers inside to see the home.
Battista, who has owned the home for nearly10 years and is currently renting the property to tenants, told Council: “This hostile designation has been anything but kind to me. I cannot afford the repairs or the upkeep. My house is my only investment and my only nest egg for retirement.”
During the hearing, Espinoza said that if the home were Landmarked he would help find Battista a buyer for the property, but he questioned why it should be the responsibility of the seller to obtain the right to demolish the home instead of the purchaser who stood to profit from its development.
Throughout the hearing Council members stated time and again that the home had historic value that should be preserved, but were concerned about the loss of wealth Battista might experience as a result of their following the recommendation of the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission, which voted unanimously to save the Hoyt house.
Additionally, members stated that they were concerned that the process needed to be tweaked to raise the bar against historic preservation and for homeowners seeking the right to demolish their homes either for themselves or others.
Council member Mary Beth Susman stated the ordinance may “need some tweaking and maybe a higher bar for hostile designation [than is needed in cases where the owners are amenable to the designation]”
Espinoza disagreed with the assertion that the bar was too low or that the Landmark designations were becoming a new norm.
“Since I have been in office, there have been 197 of these requests for the right to demolish a potential landmark structure. Of the 197, 86, nearly half, have been in my northwest Denver district,” said Espinoza. “Of the 86, I have had come through; seven structures have had the potential to be wider-scale points of contention among my constituents. Only one resulted in a land-marking application that resulted in this sort of public hearing, and that structure is now demolished. The other six potentially historic structures that generated community concern resulted in the following outcomes: Three were withdrawn voluntarily, and the structures remain. Two were protected from demolition and destructive alteration via a covenant agreement with Historic Denver. One was voluntarily withdrawn, and a full restoration is almost complete, and will be resold along with new developments on both sides of the structure.”
The ability to challenge an owner’s request to acquire a certificate of non-historic status to demolish a home required only one applicant and $ 100 before 2012. In 2012, Council amended the ordinance by increasing the fee to $ 875 and requiring three signatures from Denver residents. However, Council recognized that a community could not always raise those fees and allowed a Councilperson to make the challenge.
Council members voting for the landmark designation were Espinoza, Wayne New, Debbie Ortega and Paul Lopez. Those opposed were Kendra Black, Albus Brooks, Jolon Clark, Kevin Flynn, Mary Beth Susman and Stacie Gilmore.
By: Joe Boven | [email protected]
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