Denver City and County Building

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A bid by two Denver councilwomen to raise the city's bar for approving owner-opposed historic landmark designations has failed.

Councilwoman Kendra Black said on Monday night that she and Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore did not have enough support from their colleagues to amend the city’s landmark law so that a super-majority — or 10 of 13 votes — would be required to approve a designation when the property’s owner is against it.

“The amendment would have simply raised the bar when owners are not in support to ensure that the property very clearly meets or exceeds the criteria. Unfortunately, we don’t have the votes tonight to amend it,” said Black during the council meeting. “But I do hope that our fellow council members will reach out to their constituents to gauge their feelings on the issue, and that we can discuss this proposal in the future.”

Black’s push for the change came in the wake of the controversy over Tom’s Diner.

A group sought historic preservation status for the 52-year-old diner on East Colfax Avenue over the wishes of owner Tom Messina, who wanted to sell the establishment to a developer. The residents later withdrew that application, saying they instead intended to work with Messina and the developer to find other options for the site.

“Council has been put in the very uncomfortable position of having to preside over some pretty awful public hearings when some owners were having to defend their property rights,” Black said Monday. “I’ve heard from hundreds of constituents and residents who were shocked to learn that Mr. Messina’s plans for his property and his future could be undermined by complete strangers.”

A citizen group is working on a future ballot measure that would require the city to compensate property owners if their property is designated without their support, Black noted. That measure "could have a chilling effect on future designations," she said. 

The council advanced a set of rule changes on Monday night that would give developers, residents and landowners more time to work out a compromise in the case of future owner-opposed designations.

Those amendments, drafted by a city task force, would also add a category of "culture" to the criteria considered potential landmarks to encourage residents to seek more designations in racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.

The council passed the amendments on first reading in a 12-0 vote, with Gilmore absent. It's slated to make a final decision on the changes on Sept. 30 following a public hearing.

Another owner-opposed historic designation request was set to come before the council on Monday, but the public hearing on a Berkeley mortuary chapel was postponed until Nov. 12.

Residents initially applied for landmark status for the structure, the Olinger Moore Howard Chapel mortuary at 4345 W. 46th Ave., but are now working out a deal with the developer who intended to redevelop the land.

“The owner and the applicant have found a compromise to come to a 60-day pause to find a buyer for the property,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said.

In other business, the council also advanced a proposed law that would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

The bill, which the council is considering at the request of the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, would cover all products containing nicotine — including vaporized ones — as well as electronic devices used to consume those substances. It would also require that Denver’s nearly 600 known tobacco retailers obtain a new license to keep selling those goods.

The final vote on the bill is set for next week, although no public hearing is scheduled.

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