Full-Service Restaurant Pondered for Historic Lumber Baron Inn

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Joel Bryant is exploring what it would take to open a full-service restaurant in the Lumber Baron Inn, the bed-and-breakfast in Denver’s Potter Highlands neighborhood that he purchased last year for $1.7 million. He’s taken the first step by filing a pre-application request for a rezoning review.

“We’re just exploring it right now,” says Bryant, who grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from North High School. “I want to see what the city says and talk to my lawyer about what our chances are. It’s such a long process. It’s at least a year or a year and a half to do a rezoning.”

Under its current zoning, Lumber Baron is allowed to operate as a bed-and-breakfast and host special events, such as weddings or corporate events. A restaurant is not currently permitted, says Evelyn Baker, deputy director of Community Planning and Development for the city.

“We have been clear with the property owner and the neighbors that a restaurant use is not permitted,” Baker says. “It would need to be rezoned, and the city council would need to evaluate it.”

Before the application hits the Denver City Council, the Community Planning and Development staff and the Denver planning board will evaluate the rezoning request, against the following criteria:

- Is the rezoning consistent with the completed plan?
- Does the rezoning further public health, safety and welfare?
- Are there circumstances that justify the rezoning?
- Is the rezoning consistent with the neighborhood context?
- Does the rezoning align with the zone district’s purpose and intent?
- Would it result in consistent regulations for each property with the same zoning designation citywide?

Bryant bought the property from Walter and Julie Keller, who had restored the Queen Anne-style house at 2555 West 37th Avenue and turned it into a bed-and-breakfast. At the time it was listed, prospective buyers included condo, apartment and senior housing developers, as well as several cannabis businesses that wanted to convert it to a bud-and-breakfast inn.

Before the Kellers restored the mansion, built in 1890 as a single-family home, the building had fallen into a decrepit, condemned wreck. They purchased the property in 1991 for $80,000 and got a $300,000 low-interest loan from the Denver Office of Economic Development to help with the restoration.

Though the 127-year-old home is historic, it’s not on Denver’s official list of designated historic landmarks. It was built for John Mouat, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in the lumber business and lost it in the Silver Crash of 1893. Mouat, part of a wave of Scottish immigrants who settled in the north-side neighborhood, paid $7,000 for a quarter of the block.

The three-story, 8,000-square-foot mansion is also the site of an unsolved double murder. In 1970, the bodies of seventeen-year-old Kara Lee Knoche and eighteen-year-old Marianne Weaver were found in Knoche’s apartment in the mansion. At the time, there were 23 apartments crammed into the structure.

Bryant will update the Highland United Neighbors Planning and Community Development Committee, which helps developers navigate permitting in Highland, on his plans during a special meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. today, February 20, at the Elevate Church at West 30th Avenue and Vallejo Street.

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