A failed effort to landmark a Queen Anne home in Denver’s Jefferson Park over the owner’s objections could end up making it harder to carry out so-called “hostile designations” in the future.
The Denver City Council voted 7 to 4 Monday against giving landmark designation to the stately but deteriorating home on West 23rd Avenue. And council members not only voted no on the designation initiated by Councilman Rafael Espinoza but described a “broken process” that needs reform.
Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman said she would use her position as chair of the council’s land use, transportation and infrastructure committee to take a new look at the ordinance that allows for hostile designation and encourage the city to set a higher bar in the future.
Councilman Paul Kashmann said the city should consider putting its own money into helping individual homeowners preserve historic homes with expensive problems.
As Jon Murray reported in the Denver Post, the preservation battle pit Espinoza against homeowner Judith Battista.
The Queen Anne home at 2849 W. 23rd Ave. was built in 1890. Its most famous residents were Merrill and Burnham Hoyt, Denver architects and sons of the first owners. Burnham Hoyt designed Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the Park Hill Library and the original central library building.
Nearly 40 people spoke about the designation, just slightly more in opposition than in favor, and the public hearing and council debate lasted more than three hours.
Council members Susman, Kashmann, Stacie Gilmore, Kendra Black, Kevin Flynn, Jolon Clark and Council President Albus Brooks voted no. Council members Espinoza, Wayne New, Paul Lopez and Deborah Ortega voted yes.
Council members Chris Herndon and Robin Kniech were absent.
Espinoza initiated the landmark designation in his capacity as a council member, though he had the support of Historic Denver and the Landmark Preservation Commission recommended the designation.
Espinoza said the home was exceptional both as a home and for what it represents in Denver’s history, a place that shaped the perspective of people who went on to influence the rest of the city.
Espinoza said the fact that Jefferson Park has so little historic integrity left, in contrast to other neighborhoods like Curtis Park and Baker, is not an accident or a coincidence but the result of city planning decisions.
“This was one little fragment that could have remained, and I’m sorry to let my community down,” he said.
An emotional Battista described buying the home as a nest egg and investment and falling behind on costly repairs. She wants the ability to sell the home to someone who would redevelop the site.
“I humbly come before you to defend my house, my rights and my financial future,” she said. Battista said it was unfair for Espinoza to initiate the designation, sit on the dais and question people and then vote on it.
Hostile designations provokes strong feelings, with one speaker describing himself as a “survivor” of similar treatment from the city.
Some longtime Jefferson Park residents spoke against the designation. They also fear being unable to sell their homes “as is.”
“To think it could be me in the same situation makes me sad,” said Maribel Salgado.
Historic homes that are preserved generally increase in value, but a run-down home might be worth more for its land value, especially in rapidly redeveloping neighborhoods like Jefferson Park.
Espinoza said a preservation-minded developer would pay a good price for the home, and the lot has additional development potential without demolishing the home, further increasing its value.
Denver’s broader gentrification debate played out in council chambers. H. Scott Richmond, Battista’s real estate agent, described her taking a “huge risk in a neighborhood that had many safety issues” and waiting patiently for it to mature even as the home showed more and more problems.
That sentiment offended Joshua Duran, who grew up in the neighborhood.
“I am concerned that our history is being scraped by people who have no investment in our community,” he said. He described a friend’s grandmother’s house, where a backyard garden flowered every summer but is now shaded by three-story buildings on either side.
Joan Boldue said those who want to preserve the home don’t mean any hardship on Battista. The issue is bigger than one person.
“Nobody means this personally,” she said. “We just really care about our heritage, and we support our councilman, Rafael Espinoza, in his effort.”
Lopez said he agrees the process has problems but the community has a lot at stake as well.
“We need to respect the integrity of the community,” he said.
Brooks said he recognizes the concerns about northwest Denver being transformed, but the city needs to look at a broader approach than taking preservation one property at a time.
“We need a fund,” he said. “We have funds all over the city for special projects, but we don’t have a fund for preservation. We need a fund.”