Denver Considers Changes to Landmark Preservation Ordinance

Otten Johnson Alert November 2012

The Denver City Council is currently reviewing proposed changes to Denver's Landmark Preservation Ordinance, including changes to the procedure for non-owners to designate structures as landmarks and for owners to designate their structures as non-historic.

The existing ordinance provides that anyone can file an application for landmark designation on any property. In order to confirm some degree of community support for the application, the proposed ordinance would require that non-owner-initiated applications may only be submitted by: (a) the Community Planning and Development Department ("CPD") manager; (b) a member or members of City Council; or (c) at least three persons who are residents or owners of property in Denver or who have a primary place of business in Denver. The definition of a person includes an entity and a neighborhood organization.

The existing ordinance provides that, if the written consent of the owner is not included in the designation application, an explanation must be given as to why the Landmark Preservation Commission should proceed. This provision is deleted in the proposed ordinance, but owner notification is still required. Additionally, the application form would no longer require a non-owner to provide evidence of community support.

Although not a part of the proposed ordinance, the CPD is also considering an increase to the application fee for non-owner-initiated landmark designation applications from the current $250 to $1000. Proponents maintain that the higher fee covers rising administrative costs and ensures that the applicant has a strong interest in the property. Some opponents argue that this fee is too high and have suggested a $500 fee instead. This fee is ultimately set by the CPD manager, and City Council approval of the fee increase is not required.

The proposed ordinance also addresses applications for non-historic status designations, which allow property owners to have structures officially declared non-historic. The existing ordinance provides that a property owner may file for a certificate declaring a structure non-historic, which prevents an application for landmark designation on the structure without the owner's consent for five years. The proposed ordinance would further provide that, if a structure is part of a general development plan, the non-historic certificate would prevent a non-owner-initiated designation application for the later of five years or the period during which a general development plan is vested, for a maximum of 10 years.

Finally, the proposed ordinance would amend the time period to file a landmark designation application if an application for non-historic status designation (or a demolition permit for a structure the CPD manager determines may have potential for historic designation) is filed. The proposed ordinance would now require that the current 21-day time period to submit a landmark designation application after a property is posted for potential designation would be increased to 28 days, if a notice of intent to file a landmark designation application is submitted to CPD within 14 days of the posting.

Otten Johnson will continue to watch the proposed ordinance as it moves through the City Council approval process.

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