Cripple Creek Council Seeks Overview of Historic Preservation Rules and Regulations

Leaders frown on more control over private residences

Gold Strike Inn Victorian Mansion photo from www.airbandb

~ by Rick Langenberg ~

As Cripple Creek approaches the 27th anniversary of limited stakes gaming, historic preservation is still a red hot topic.

The fight over how to maintain the town’s Victorian-era character while catering to the gambling industry and promoting future growth has generated a mixture of opinions over the last three decades. And the debate is far from over

That point was reinforced last week loud and clear, as the city council discussed a proposed measure that would have required owners of older residential homes, located in the historic and business district, to abide by the current historic preservation rules, including getting the official okay to have their structures demolished or altered. When gaming was started, private residences were exempt from historic rules and regulations, unless the properties were converted into a commercial enterprise or business.

But a recent brouhaha over the demolition of an 1895 structure to pave the way for the Bronco Billy’s expansion development ignited concerns among some historic preservation proponents and residents, who argued that more oversight is needed to protect the town’s historic look. 

“Protecting our historical buildings and character is very important to the city, and is the purpose of the historic preservation ordinance and Bennett Avenue historical district,” said Bill Gray, planning and community development director for the city, in a staff report last week. “Residential buildings also play an important role in the city’s history and built environment.”

As a result, Gray proposed a slight revision of the town’s main historic preservation ordinance that eliminations the exemptions currently permitted for owners of residential properties that are located in the town’ main historic area, consisting of its business and business buffer zone. Under the proposed revision of the ordinance, crafted in 1991, private residences in the historic area would have to follow the same preservation rules as commercial properties and even casinos. 

But this idea got met with a lukewarm response by most council members and raised many questions.

“I have a huge problem with this revision,” blasted Councilman Tom Litherland “It seems to me, this is after the fact,” he added. He was referring to the controversy over the Billy’s expansion project, which gave the owners of Billy’s the right to take down several buildings for a parking garage and a six-story hotel.

More importantly, he argued that this proposed change could signal a bad precedent for the town. “It is a stumbling block for those who want to develop. We should leave the ordinance the way it is.”

Moreover, he defended the city’s action in permitting Billy’s to take down what is referred to as the “yellow house.” Otherwise, the developers would not be able to build a parking garage and ultimately a quality hotel, noted Litherland

Councilwoman Melissa Trenary, who has served on the historic preservation commission, though, spoke in favor of the ordinance change. “It gives the public the right to voice their opinion. The public does not have a voice on anything.” 

She was referring to the touchy subject of demolishing historic buildings in Cripple Creek, with little opportunity permitted for pubic input. “It gives the public a voice.”

According to Trenary, the town has already lost several viable historic properties. She viewed the change as way to protect historic buildings getting “mowed down without public input.”

During public comment, another area resident, Jeanne Gripp, echoed similar views, and expressed big concerns about the destruction of historic buildings in town. “You are taking away from the culture and history of the area. I think there needs to be more control over the demolition of these homes.”  

Gripp said she moved to the area because of the town’s unique history..

In a cautionary note, Gray told the council that the possible change would only affect a handful of buildings. He indicated that the change would mainly deal with private homes, located in the business district, which are part of the period of historic significance (between 1910 and 1896).

Many buildings or not, most council members didn’t appear to support the proposed change.

“I don’t think we should be in a position to tell a homeowner what he can or cannot do (with his property),” said Mayor Pro Tem Chris Hazlett. He also cited a problem with devising a new set of rules that could negatively impact people who invested in Cripple Creek in recent years.

The proposal appeared definitely headed for defeat.

Reed Grainger, a local real estate broker and the chairman of the historic preservation commission, though, offered a possible compromise.  He suggested that the commission and staff review all current historic preservation ordinances and rules and make necessary changes. “There needs to be a more global approach,” said Grainger. He said some rules, such as ones governing business buffer areas, are too extensive, while others, dealing with demo requests, may need to be tightened up. He cited several inconsistencies with the current rules that should be updated.

“This whole thing needs to be cleaned up,” agreed Hazlett. In fact, the idea of a historic preservation overview appeared to strike a favorable note with all council members. The council agreed to refer the issue to the historic preservation commission, which will take the lead step in reviewing the current rules with help of staff.

Ultimately, the council expressed a desire to have “a more community-oriented process.”  A lot is at stake at what decisions the council takes, as the state is reviewing how the gaming communities deal with historic preservation.