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Buzz Geller's Bell Tower faces new hurdle

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After months of dispute and controversy, everything seemed to fall into place for the proposed Bell Tower, local developer Buzz Geller's ambitious and striking 34-story condominium slated to rise at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Market Street, when the Lower Downtown Design Review Board gave it the go-ahead on February 5. The approval ended an extended struggle between Geller and city officials over whether the building was too large, a clash that resulted in Geller's slimming down his proposal by 18 percent. But now the developer faces another hurdle before breaking ground on his already much-delayed project: This past Friday, nearby resident Z.L. Pearson Jr. appealed the design review board's decision to the city's Landmark Preservation Commission.

"I think it's going to adversely affect the Downtown Historic District," says Pearson. "It will obscure the views into and out of the historic district to the extent that it isn't confined to the authorized floor plate." In his appeal, Pearson notes that at the February 5 design review board hearing, Geller said that some of the tower's floors would exceed the 7,500-square-foot footprint allowed in the site's zoning.

Geller justifies this by explaining that since each floor of the unusually shaped building is different, the building's average footprint will fall within the 7,500-square-foot limitation. But Pearson says it's hard to know for sure how well the tower complies with size restrictions because Geller did not submit new scale drawings of his new, slimmer proposal at the February 5 hearing, only a small model.

Pearson's just angry that the Bell Tower will impact the view he has from his residence in Larimer Place, the 32-story condo northeast of the proposed development, says Geller, who thinks most area residents support him. "I believe he has a personal agenda," says Geller. "Z.L. has never liked the Tower concept because it interferes with his view to the southwest."

In response, Pearson says he wouldn't be able to see the Bell Tower at all from his unit and that his concern is really about honoring Bell Park, the site of Geller's tower and the location of Denver's founding and first city hall. "Quite frankly, downtown Denver needs more historic spaces. It needs a park to commemorate this historic place, where the city was founded," he says. "It should probably have a museum on it."

Geller says that his project will actually expand Bell Park as well as views to the area, and he is confident the Landmark Preservation Commission, when it holds a hearing on the matter, will agree and reject Pearson's appeal. "Its only impact is that it will cause a number of unnecessary meetings to take place," says Geller -- who these days knows more about planning meetings than anybody.

If the commission does find in Geller's favor, Pearson could take that decision to court, though such a costly move appears unlikely. "I'll do that," says Pearson, "as soon as I hit the lottery."

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