Gates Rubber factory historic designation try prompts city council to act -- but not raise fee

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Update: Denver City Council made some history last night when it approved changes to the city's landmark ordinance. Today, the Department of Community Planning and Development Community Planning and Development finished the job by raising the landmark application fee from $250 to $875.

Based on an evaluation of non-owner applications in recent years, the CPD determined that staff costs for processing those applications fall between $400 and $1,500, and that most cost less than $1,000.

Last summer, a University of Colorado student filed a non-owner application in an attempt to stymie the redevelopment of the old Gates Rubber factory by having the remaining buildings declared a landmark. Keep reading for the rest of the original post.

As Alan Prendergast reported in his August 16 cover story, "Trouble in the Rubble," Eugene Elliott first saw the desolate Gates complex while driving through Denver several years ago. "I don't think I'd ever seen a building so big," he said. "Or so dilapidated, for that matter. It made me curious about what it used to be and why it's still there."

Curious enough that he did some research. And earlier this year, he learned that Gates was planning to raze the remaining buildings on the site, including the manufacturing plant itself. A sign posted on the fence around the complex noted that the owner had applied for a demolition permit, and that the property might be eligible for landmark status -- and anyone seeking such designation needed to file an application with the city within 21 days. An application, and $250.

At the last minute, Elliot came up with the cash and presented the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission with a plea to grant landmark status to the three oldest remaining structures: the manufacturing plant, known as Unit 10, plus the power plant and warehouse to the north of it. "The former Gates Rubber Company is a huge piece of Colorado and more relevantly Denver history," Elliott wrote. "By not accepting the landmark-designation application, the owner will proceed to demolish the last remaining physical reminder of what Gates Rubber Company did and was for this city and its citizens."

The application came as a surprise to both the city and the owner of the property, which has been closed since 1996 and was the subject of grand plans for a new urbanism development -- plans stalled by bad economic times. So bad, in fact, that Gates had wound up taking the property back from the developer. And just when Gates was getting the project back on track -- with the blessing of relieved neighbors -- Elliott put up another roadblock. And it cost him just $250 to do so.

You could hear the howls across the city. Ultimately, the landmark commission decided that the Gates buildings did not qualify for landmark protection. But that did not put the matter to rest. The city had already been taking a long look at its landmark policies, and the result was the measure that Denver City Council approved last night. But despite early outrage over the relative pittance Elliott paid to file his protest, the $250 application fee has not been raised. Not yet, at least. Continue for the details of the ordinance changes. Here's last night's announcement from the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development:

City Council Approves Changes to Landmark Preservation Ordinance

Tonight the Denver City Council approved a series of changes to the city's landmark preservation ordinance proposed by the Community Planning and Development Department (CPD). The changes, specific to the demolition and historic-designation sections of the ordinance, seek to balance community, preservationist and landowner interests, and to eliminate unnecessary steps from the demolition review and historic-designation review processes.

Key changes involved in the ordinance update:

• Require that non-owner-initiated designation applications be filed by a minimum of three Denver residents or property owners, or the CPD manager or a City Council member. This provision raises the level of community support and involvement required for a non-owner-initiated application.

• Limit Landmark Preservation staff review of demolition permits for undesignated properties to primary structures and large accessory structures, effectively eliminating unnecessary reviews for garage and shed demolitions. (Currently, Landmark Preservation staff reviews all demolition permits to ensure that historic properties are not demolished without community notification.)

• Require that non-owner applicants file a landmark designation application within 21 days of demolition posting by the city, or within 28 days if a notice of intent to file is sent. This provision provides applicants with more time, while providing property owners with a "heads-up."

• Allow the Landmark Preservation Commission to consider historic or physical integrity and relative significance of a structure or district when reviewing an application for historic designation -- factors the commission was not empowered to consider until now.

• Provide for other administrative changes that streamline the process. View the full proposal.

The fee for non-owner-initiated landmark designation applications (currently set at $250) will not be included in the ordinance. In the coming days, CPD Interim Manager Molly Urbina will set the fee based on community input and the estimated manpower cost of processing non-owner-initiated designation applications.

"The changes to the landmark ordinance that passed tonight bring greater balance to a process that was good, but was in need of an update," Urbina said. "We saw an opportunity to raise the bar for landmark designations, lend more credibility to the process, and include some common-sense changes that benefit everyone."

Landmark Preservation staff first brought a draft of landmark ordinance changes to City Council's Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure committee as an informational item in July. Later, the city's Landmark Preservation Commission reviewed the proposals in a series of public meetings, and recommended approval. In addition, CPD staff has done considerable outreach over the last six months to community groups, registered neighborhood organizations, city council members and others to gather input and respond to questions and concerns about the changes. The ordinance changes were modified several times based on stakeholder feedback.

Barbara Stocklin-Steely, principal city planner for Landmark Preservation, said, "We embarked on a deliberate, lengthy community outreach process to make sure that citizens had the opportunity to understand and comment on these changes. We weren't in a hurry -- we wanted to make sure we got it right."

The landmark preservation ordinance was established in 1967. Changes in 2006 sought to prevent "surprise" demolitions of potentially historic buildings. In early 2012 the Community Planning and Development Department began drafting proposed changes based on opportunities for improvement identified by staff. Later in 2012, two controversial landmark designation applications were filed -- one on the Gates rubber plant property and one on a partially-demolished warehouse on Huron Street in the Ballpark neighborhood. Each raised questions about the city's process and drew further attention to the need for updates to the ordinance.

From our archives: "Ruin porn: Inside the Gates Rubber factory."

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