History lesson 

The Old North End preserved its Victorian homes; will Old Colorado City do the same?

click to enlarge Bob Loevy on the porch of his Old North End home, built - in 1900. - NAOMI ZEVELOFF
  • Naomi Zeveloff
  • Bob Loevy on the porch of his Old North End home, built in 1900.

Colorado Springs' Old North End is made up of Victorian homes, two-story shingled houses with open porches propped by long, white columns.

The neighborhood, which spans 40 square blocks between Uintah Street and Penrose Hospital, was built in the late 1800s when millionaire mining managers moved in with the Cripple Creek gold boom.

It's also the city's only neighborhood with historic overlay zoning. Established by the city seven years ago, the zoning mandates that homeowners adhere to strict historic guidelines when remodeling the exteriors of their houses. If one family deviates from the Victorian scheme, the entire district is affected.

"The whole idea is that a well-preserved Victorian neighborhood is not just a local asset, but a national asset," says Colorado College professor Bob Loevy, an Old North End resident and advocate. "From the beginning, what we wanted to do is change people's psychological attitude toward their property so that they see it as a historic home worth preserving, and that it gets a lot of its value from the fact."

But while the Old North End maintains a purist attitude, another Colorado Springs district seeks a more modern approach to preservation, one that gives property owners more power to change their homes.

And it has some North Enders worried about where they live, and the future of historic zoning.

Historic demise

Over the past several months, the Organization of Westside Neighbors has worked with City Council to come up with an answer to the Old Colorado City problem. Homeowners in the district want historic preservation, but it doesn't make sense for a patchwork neighborhood that boasts older classic homes alongside newer properties.

As a tentative solution, OWN may apply to the city for a type of historic overlay zoning that would allow property owners more leeway when it comes to changing their homes.

Under Old Colorado City's scheme, a homeowner who wants to alter his or her property outside of historical guidelines might face a 90-day delay in doing so. But ultimately, the property owner could move forward without approval from City Council or anyone else.

"[The historic overlay] should have been done many years ago, not now," says Councilor Jerry Heimlicher, who represents the west side and Old Colorado City. "How do you explain it to someone that built an all-glass house in 1975? What are we supposed to do about them? Just except them because their house doesn't comply? You get into a bag of worms."

The Old Colorado City plan has some city lawmakers wondering if Colorado Springs should relax its historic zoning process altogether, a move that would allow North Enders more flexibility to change their homes.

Preservation vs. property rights

In February, Mayor Lionel Rivera indicated that he wanted to revisit the zoning legislation to create an opt-out provision, one under which individual property owners could choose not to follow the historical guidelines.

Loevy says this spells demise for historic neighborhoods.

"We disagree strongly that any zoning should ever be voluntary," he says. "The essence of zoning is that every area should be protected."

City planner Tim Scanlon agrees.

"When individuals use the phrases "opt in' and "opt out,' we tend to regard that with a high degree of aversion," Scanlon says.

"You know, it turns zoning on its head when you allow property owners to decide what their zone is, as opposed to council."

City Council broached the topic at last week's informal meeting, but there wasn't enough support to change the zoning legislation.

That doesn't mean that the city won't reconsider it in the future.

"It's possible," says Scanlon.

Old Colorado City, meanwhile, is moving forward with its historic preservation plan, documenting the particulars of each home and business to create a style guideline. OWN leaders also hope to plug into a state program that provides tax incentives for homeowners who undertake historic renovation.

OWN treasurer David Hughes says this is fairer than the stringent policies of the Old North End.

"I revitalized more historic preservation on the west side than all the do-gooders in this damn town, and we did it by economic incentive," he says. "You can use a carrot or a stick."

Though Loevy says Old North End homeowners support their neighborhood's historic overlay, Hughes doubts that everyone is on board. He cites a 2000 court case in which a group of North End homeowners filed suit against the city, but failed.

"Having done that, they got themselves boxed in," he says.

But any disgruntlement aside, the Old North End has preserved its style, as much of Colorado Springs including parts of Old Colorado City has capitulated to urban renewal.

"This has been working," maintains Loevy. "There aren't armies of dissatisfied people out there."


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