“They feel the town is heading in the right direction,” said Planning and Building Director Chris Hawkins of the HARC board’s decision.
Boardmembers Joe Waller, John Arnold, Peter Sante and Luke Trujillo say the town’s Historic Preservation Overlay District and design guidelines, if applied as drafted, are sufficient to ensure Telluride remains among the nation’s 229 landmark districts in casting their majority vote.
Dissenting Boardmember Scott McQuade disagreed. “I think [people will] interpret it in a way that there’s nothing to worry about,” he said.
“I don’t necessarily agree with that message; I think there’s a lot to worry about,” he continued.
Telluride received its official designation in 1963 because of the number of buildings that, as a whole, represent a 19th-century mining frontier boomtown, according to the National Park Service’s National Historic Landmarks Program website.
The NPS administers the voluntary program for the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, and monitors the condition of the landmarks, making recommendations regarding their preservation and protection.
Part of the NPS monitoring program includes a biennial survey whose results are used to help plan educational and assistance efforts to support the landmarks, explained a staff memo to the HARC submitted by Hawkins and Historic Preservation Architect Mike Davenport.
Based upon survey comments received about the condition of a national landmark solicited from its stewards and federal and state historic preservation officers, the NPS rates the landmarks depending on the urgency of intervention required to maintain their historic status, if any.
An Emergency designation indicates that an NHL has sustained recent catastrophic damage requiring immediate intervention to preserve the resource and prevent withdrawal of its historic designation.
Threatened (Priority 1) landmarks either have suffered, or are in imminent danger of suffering a severe loss of integrity.
Watch (Priority 2) landmarks face anticipated actions or circumstance that will likely cause a loss of integrity.
Satisfactory (Priority 3) landmarks are in good condition and exhibit no known current or potential threats.
A status report submitted to the NPS by the town in 1993 indicated that the Telluride NLD held Watch status due to development pressures (largely for ridgeline development above town and what was then a potential for development on the Valley Floor), according to the staff memo to HARC.
From 1994 through 1996 status reports rated the NLD as satisfactory, and subsequent reports do not appear to exist again until 2002, when the district was again rated satisfactory.
In what essentially amounted to a request that the Telluride NLD be designated a higher priority status, town staff highlighted the challenges being placed on preservation efforts because of escalating property values in its 2004 status report to the NPS.
“Many long-time homeowners are selling out, and the new owners seek to maximize their investment. We are also seeing more speculative projects. We are seeing proposals for new construction and additions to historic structures that are out of scale and incompatible with the historic character of our town,” the report stated, going on to cite growing pressure to increase the development envelop limits allowed in the Land Use Code, large additions to the rear of historic structures, and relocation of historic secondary structures to make room for larger primary structures as examples of threats to the town’s historic integrity.
“We do not have a specific structure in need of financial assistance; we have an entire town that is being threatened by escalating property values and development pressures. We are at a critical juncture, and the gravity of the situation needs to be recognized,” the report concluded, prompting the NPS to return the Telluride NLD to its watch list.
Despite what may appear at first glance as a wholly negative designation the town would be better without, there are both pros and cons to the rating.
A reclassification of the town’s status to satisfactory would remove some of the anxiety that exists surrounding the Watch designation; it could also be something of a public relations boon.
Additionally, it could help to ensure that development applications are evaluated only according to the town’s design guidelines, without influence from a negative NLD status.
“We’ve to some degree asked to be put on the Watch list,” said Sante. “Whether we’re on the list or not, the design guidelines are there and they should be evenly interpreted…”
On the other hand, remaining on the list could give the town an edge for receiving federal or state funding and technical assistance. It could also provide a heightened level of awareness about the importance of protecting the district, and cause projects to be more thoroughly evaluated as to their impact on the NLD – particularly when the economy improves and development pressures return.
“Many of those pressures are still here today and many of them have not been resolved,” said McQuade. “I would put what’s happening to our town on the Watch list. I’ve felt like I’ve had to approve several [demolitions] that I don’t feel good about approving and I feel like it’s only going to get worse.”
“I’m just as concerned today as I was three years ago, if not more.”
Town council’s liaison to HARC, Councilmember Bob Saunders, also weighed in on the discussion although he did not vote on it.
“I think keeping us on the Watch list is a good thing. It keeps people more tuned to the fact that we have to watch what we do,” he said. “That sort of tension is good.”
In 2006 staff did not request a change to the NLD status pending the completion of an update of the Telluride Historic and Architectural Survey in progress at the time. (The project has since been placed on hold due to budget constraints).
Although HARC may believe the town is ready for a satisfactory status and has indicated that it wants to lobby for the change, in the end it is the NPS that will make the decision, said Hawkins.