PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. — While the Historic Preservation Board works with the town council to revise the Pagosa Springs Municipal Code, the board feels it is necessary to protect sites, building and other features that are of sufficient age to be designated as historic landmarks through the adoption of a temporary suspension of the demolition of such sites and buildings.
The ordinance is in direct response to recent demolitions of downtown structures including a more than 50-year-old gas station and three decrepit homes along Pagosa Street, none of which were in the currently designated historic district and none of which were designated as historic structures. Developer David J. Brown and Bootjack Management are working on a redevelopment plan for those sites, but in the interim the property remains fenced and vacant. Brown has stated that he is waiting for the adoption of the town’s comprehensive plan and master plan before moving forward with development to assure that his projects meet all design guidelines and criteria. Other developers, like longtime Pagosa resident Susan Winter Ward, have moved forward with projects along Pagosa Street that may or may not fit in with design guidelines and zoning that will be finalized through the comprehensive and master planning processes.
Ordinance 666 states: “Notwithstanding that the property has not been previously designated as a historic landmark or is not within a designated historic district, the Town temporarily suspends the issuance of all applications for authorization or a permit for demolition of any building or improvement that is fifty years old or older.” This temporary ordinance will be in effect for one year. The ordinance does allow for the town council to consider requests from property owners on a case-by-case basis to issue an exemption from the temporary suspension if the property involved has no historic significance based upon the criteria set forth in the current municipal code.
In order to qualify for designation as a historic landmark, the property must be at least 50 years old, determined to have historic significance due to one or more of 11 factors outlined in the municipal code, and must have the property owner’s written consent or application. The Historic Preservation Board reserves the right to waive any requirement.
David Smith, a representative from Bootjack, stated at the council meeting that he was “concerned about property owners rights and concerned about being able to continue working with town and have a say in historic structures.” Smith felt that the preservation board and town would be finalizing something that was still in process.
Susan Winter Ward, a member of the Historic Preservation Board, said she feels the recent demolitions were thwarting economic development, raising property taxes and raising rents because of a lack of commercial space available. She believes the ordinance will allow council and the historic preservation board to review demolition requests and not leave the land blank, “which does not do us any favors,” Ward said.
“We do not intend to stop demolition,” Sherri Pierce of the Historic Preservation Board added. “But this ordinance will allow a review of those properties.”
Pierce went on to explain that a recent test of the process came about when builder Bob Hart decided to tear down some old, decrepit cabins along the river on San Juan Street. Historic Preservation met with Hart and determined that two of the four cabins were not historically significant. Two had some historic features, but were in such poor condition they could not be saved. “We determined that those cabins did not represent any historic value and we would have approved demolition,” Pierce said. The policy was not in place and the cabins were demolished. Pierce did add that she was able to recover some elements such as doorknobs, which were given to the historical museum.
The historic preservation board plans to use the next year to write a permanent ordinance and address all facets of the historic preservation code.
Trustee Stan Holt felt that this was a stopgap measure. “I think it is needed,” Holt said.
Trustee Jerry Jackson was concerned about the length of the moratorium, citing that the big box moratorium was only for six months. Pierce and Ward responded by saying that this ordinance was different and that council could still consider demolition on a case-by-case basis.
The ordinance passed unanimously noting that the historic preservation board would only make recommendations to council in a similar way that the planning commission makes recommendations to council and that council was the final authority.