Council moving to protect Crested Butte history
Walking through the alleys of town, one sees the old Crested Butte. Behind the refurbished million-dollar homes are the old coal sheds or outhouses that were built during the mining days. The town staff wants to protect that part of Crested Butte history and the council has set for public hearing a strict ordinance requiring property owners to make sure those pieces of history don’t just fall down.
The council is looking at incentives and penalties to entice private property owners to shore up some of the old buildings around town. A proposed ordinance addressing the “demolition by neglect of historic structures” states that if such a structure is located on private property, the property owner will be responsible to maintain it to the extent that it won’t collapse.
“I think one of the things about Crested Butte that’s special is the outbuildings,” Crested Butte building official Bob Gillie told the council Monday evening.
“Those buildings, like the old coal sheds, say a lot about the history of Crested Butte. They contribute to the character of the historic district. We feel there are some property owners who would rather see them go away and just let them fall to the ground. It’s not okay to let these buildings go to such neglect that they fall to the ground.”
According to a memo from Crested Butte Historic Preservation coordinator Molly Minneman, “The collection of historic buildings within the historic core of Town anchor its character and sense of place unlike anywhere in Colorado. It is important to continue maintaining the integrity of the historic district.”
Gillie said the town is looking at providing some incentive money to help property owners buy the necessary materials to stabilize their outbuildings. If property owners don’t do that, they could be fined and no building permits issued for their property.
“Each year one to two buildings fall, and with it, another piece of history is lost,” Minneman’s memo states. “The ordinance … does not require owners to fully rehabilitate the structures, but it does require them at best, to add support columns and sway bracing. Through the ordinance, the Town Council would convey a message that maintaining individual buildings is important to the community and to the fabric of its unique historic district.”
The council did not want to come across as overreaching. “This seems pretty black and white,” said Councilman Billy Rankin. “When is a building too far gone?”
“What about some years like last year when we had a lot of snow?” asked Mayor Alan Bernholtz. “What if they aren’t trying to neglect a building, but sometimes things happen. It’s like when you get in an accident and your car is wrecked and then the cops come along and give you a ticket.”
Town attorney John Belkin explained that it wouldn’t matter. “This ordinance is not an ‘intent’-driven ordinance,” he said. “It is like getting into an accident. If you have an historic building on your property, then it is protected. If it collapses, there are consequences.”
“I assume snow loads are the biggest cause of damage,” said Rankin. “Maybe there should be a natural disaster clause. If a huge microburst of wind comes through town, it’s not neglect.”
Gillie responded that the town would use discretion. “But these things have lasted a long time,” he said. “I’ve seen people trying to take these things down on purpose and it disturbs me.”
Belkin gave some credence to Rankin’s argument. “What Billy said makes some sense,” he said. “If you have a 150-mile-per-hour wind event then it could be considered an ‘act of God’ in legal terms—a tree branch falling on the shed or a meteorite hitting it. But is snow really an ‘act of God’ where we live?”
“Getting 80 inches in two days as opposed to 80 inches in two weeks might be,” said Bernholtz.
“It’s not really valuable to go into a dozen ‘what if’ scenarios,” said Gillie. “We just want people to know that it is their responsibility to preserve their historic outbuildings. These buildings really do give the town a sense of place and a fabric to our town.”
Councilwoman Leah Williams said the outbuildings need protection. “I agree that they are the fabric of Crested Butte,” she said.
Property owner Phoebe Wilson agreed that protecting the buildings was something the town should do but she wanted to be sure the definition of “neglect” didn’t unduly burden property owners. “I like the incentive-based ideas,” she said.
Bernholtz said that while taking a stroll around Crested Butte with the mayor of Telluride, his counterpart remarked that Crested Butte was lucky to still have all these shacks and sheds in town. “I think we should look at incentives to help preserve them and maybe instead of financial incentives, we allow the property to have more FAR (Floor Area Ratio) on their house,” Bernholtz said.
The staff will consider the council’s suggestions and bring a revised ordinance to the council for a public hearing on December 15.