Calhoun: Wake-Up Call

Condos V. Preservation in Northwest Denver: The Battle Over Anderson House

There's been lots of noise coming from construction projects all over Denver — and lots of noise from neighbors of these projects. But no area has seen more development — or more irate neighbors — than northwest Denver. Tonight, those neighbors will be sounding off at Denver City Council Chambers, 1437 Bannock Street, where councilmembers will hear testimony on the proposed landmark designation of the Anderson House at 2329 Eliot Street. Owner Jim Sonnleitner had a $1 million deal with Adams Development to sell the ramshackle Queen Anne home, which would be replaced by eighteen condos that people can actually buy. But at the last minute (or beyond it, depending on how you interpret the definition of a day), opponents filed an application proposing that the house deserved landmark designation.

And the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission agreed. Councilmembers will have the final say in their vote tonight, but first they'll hear from Denver Fugly’s Brad Evans, former Denver Auditor Dennis Gallagher, landmark applicant Jerry Olson, Historic Denver representative John Olson and Jefferson Park and District 1 residents; they may also learn more about a mystery buyer who reportedly has offered to pay $1.1 million for the house — and then preserve it.  And on the other side, you can definitely expect to hear from residents concerned about their own property rights, as well as representatives of Adams Development, who have their doubts about that $1.1 million deal. In a statement issued this morning, Nathan Adams said:
In regards to the back-up offer to Mr. Sonnleitner for his home, he has let us know that he does not believe the offer is legitimate and has rejected it. There are several things about the back-up offer that would raise concerns for homeowners and real estate professionals. For example, we understand from Mr. Sonnleitner’s real estate broker, Mike Ayre, that the person/entity that has made the offer has never been inside Mr. Sonnleitner’s home to inspect it, and they have not had an initial meeting with the city to garner an approved concept. They have also written a contract that gives them the ability to back out of the deal without any repercussion to them, including the fact that they would not lose their earnest money. Mr. Sonnleitner and Mr. Ayre both know that they have a solid offer from us, that is far more comprehensive and credible than the back-up offer.
In order to qualify as historic, a structure must meet three criteria: architecture, geography and history. Of those three, the Anderson house's historic credentials are the most impressive.  In 1900, the building was home to William W. Anderson, who briefly represented famed quasi-cannibal Alfred Packer — and in the process of that colorful representation, shot Denver Post publishers Fredrick Bonfils and Harry Tammen. Shooting newspaper execs — and getting off in self-defense? Hey, maybe this building deserves national recognition! Then again, Bonfils and Tammen survived.

For the record, by the end of  October, preservation planners had reviewed about 600 demolition requests, a number up considerably from last year. Only two historic designation applications have been pursued: for the house at Eliot and a building on West 29th, also the site of a proposed project by Adams Developers.

"It's a challenging time right now," says Denver Community Planning and Development spokeswoman Andrea Burns. She can say that again — and might, when the public hearing starts shortly after 5:30 p.m. tonight at Denver City Council.