Boulder Mayoral Candidates on Historic Preservation

Historic Boulder posed four questions about historic preservation to the candidates seeking election as Boulder’s first elected mayor.  The questions are:

  1. A proposal for a Central Park Historic District was initiated at the request of the City Council. The proposed district is composed of the park and nearby city-owned buildings in the Central Park area: the Tate Municipal building, the Bandshell and its seating, the City Storage building (where BMOCA is located), the Midland Savings / Atrium building, and the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. The district would tie together the historic properties in the area and preserve the public gathering place for use by the farmers market and other public events. Q. Would you be willing to support the creation of the Central Park historic district?
  2. All studies point to the value of historic preservation in benefiting the local economy by way of heritage tourism. The City of Boulder’s sales tax revenue is supported to a significant degree by tourists attracted by Boulder’s historic districts and places. Q. Do you have ideas about how to expand Heritage Tourism in Boulder?
  3. In the current active development market, historic buildings are sometimes targets for demolition. The high cost of housing in Boulder makes smaller homes on larger lots in our older neighborhoods at risk. However, preservation of smaller homes and adaptive reuse of older buildings can contribute to affordable housing goals. Q. How could the city’s Historic Preservation program provide affordable housing and protect our historic and cultural resources?
  1. Research shows that the greenest building is the one already built. Demolition of buildings contributes to GreenHouse gas emissions and unnecessary waste in landfills. As a zero-waste goal is important to reducing our carbon footprint; saving historic resources fits nicely with this goal. Q How could the city incorporate preservation of our historic building resources into its environmental sustainability programs?

Here are the responses (candidates in alphabetical order):

Aaron Brockett

1. Q. Would you be willing to support the creation of the Central Park historic district?

Brockett: Absolutely! I supported the proposal when it came before City Council last year. While it has taken longer to come together than we had all hoped, I have been in regular contact with city staff about the next steps that are being taken to implement the proposal.

2. Q. Do you have ideas about how to expand Heritage Tourism in Boulder?

Brockett: Our historic districts are a critical piece of what makes Boulder an interesting and desirable place to visit. Fortunately, they are already front and center in the city’s marketing and image. It’s been amazing to watch the amount of national publicity that has been focused on Boulder in the last few weeks because of the Coach Prime phenomenon. Much of the imagery being broadcast has been of the beautiful Flatirons, but Pearl Street with its historic buildings have been close behind, as well as some of CU’s historic buildings like Old Main. We should continue to make sure those historic attractions are front and center in people’s minds, along with other top ones like Chautauqua. The self-guided walks that Historic Boulder has created is another great way to introduce visitors to our historic resources, and I hope we will see more of those in the future.

3. Q. How could the city’s Historic Preservation program provide affordable housing and protect our historic and cultural resources?

Brockett: The city has a middle-income ownership program where the city buys modest sized houses and then deed restricts them to be affordable to middle-income owners and then resells to one of those buyers. I would love to see a priority given to historic homes for that program. I think we should also allow for more flexible subdivision options for lots with historic homes. For example, if a lot is big enough to be subdivided but a historic home prevents that unless it is demolished, we could allow for a subdivision that creates a smaller lot than normally allowed in exchange for the landmarking of the existing house.

4. Q How could the city incorporate preservation of our historic building resources into its environmental sustainability programs?

Brockett: The loss of embodied energy from demolition is a serious GHG emissions issue, and of course the loss of historic buildings from demolition is a serious cultural and historic issue. City staff are currently evaluating how we can incorporate embodied energy emission considerations in our building codes and sustainability practices and I look forward to incorporating these important zero-waste goals into our decision making.

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Nicole Speer

1. Q. Would you be willing to support the creation of the Central Park historic district?

Speer: I am open to this concept and have some concerns about the unintended consequences of a historic district designation particularly with regard to the historical significance of the land, community engagement, and our climate goals in the context of the rapidly expanding climate crisis.

a. Historical Significance. There are many departments and boards that ought to have a say in the current and future use of this area: Parks and Recreation, Climate Initiatives, Environmental Advisory Board, Human Relations Commission, and Community Vitality, to name a few. With a historic designation, Landmarks Board would be the primary regulator of change in this area, and critical perspectives needed for preservation of this land would be at risk of being left out. The Central Park area was only recently created in its current form. Prior to our redevelopment, it was part of a business district and had a greenhouse and a number of cottonwood trees. Prior to that existence, it was a vibrant native ecosystem stewarded by the Indigenous Peoples who have lived on these lands since time immemorial. Answering questions about which history we will seek to preserve, and who will answer and decide those questions, is crucial in thinking about creating a Central Park historic district.

b. Community engagement. Voters approved a civic area improvement tax to be used for the benefit of the entire community. Landmarking the whole district limits what can be done to meet the needs of the entire community. The buildings with historical significance are already landmarked, and this Central Park area cannot be developed for housing or some related use given its location in a high-hazard flood area. Given the whole community supported the civic area improvement tax, and the significance of this area to many residents and businesses in our community, it is important we do a broad engagement when considering the future of this site and include Indigenous Peoples who have traversed, lived in and stewarded lands in the Boulder Valley since time immemorial, such as the Di De’i (Apache), Hinono’eiteen (Arapaho), Tsétsehést?hese (Cheyenne), N?m?n?? (Comanche), Caiugu (Kiowa), Cariks i Cariks (Pawnee), Sosonih (Shoshone), Oc’eti S’akowin (Sioux) and Núuchiu (Ute).

c. Climate change. In the coming decades our climate will become hotter and drier, and our lands will be at risk of desertification, especially areas with non-native landscaping such as Central Park. We may not have sufficient water to spare for aesthetic irrigation. Water will need to be used to grow and sustain food; support our tree canopy, wildlife, and pollinator corridors; and meet the basic needs of residents and businesses. Now is when we ought to be assessing the climate risk of our parcels of land and identifying ways to regenerate and maintain land that is at risk of severe degeneration, and restore more resilient, native ecosystems. In the coming decades we will need to be able to respond in a matter of months to threats that will be exacerbated by climate change, such as the rapid expansion of invasive species. I would not want to constrain our crucial climate and land preservation work in an area as important to our community as Central Park.

I would need these issues to be explored more thoroughly prior to deciding on forming a Central Park Historic District.

2. Q. Do you have ideas about how to expand Heritage Tourism in Boulder?

Speer: We can expand Heritage Tourism by making sure our history is inclusive and making sure we are expanding access to historical and cultural uses of our spaces with historical significance. I have attended myriad cultural events that are created by and include members of Boulder’s diverse communities, but happen in other areas of Boulder County or in Denver due to restrictions on the types of events we allow in our parks and open spaces, and the types of spaces we have.

The Corn Festival, for example, hosted by Harvest of All First Nations the weekend of the Fall Equinox attracted what must have been a thousand people from across the region – some traveling from as far as Montana and the Dakotas. It was hosted at Longmont’s Agricultural Heritage Center due to Boulder’s limitations on fire. Indigenous events traditionally feature smoke in very controlled environments; our city does not allow this use and the organizers needed to look elsewhere. An Aztec dance celebration for the summer solstice attracted hundreds of people from across the Denver region but was held at La Raza park in Denver because it honors the historical significance of this area for Mexican and Latino communities.

The Museum of Boulder has held and currently holds exhibits that speak to the importance of inclusive history with the Voces Vivas exhibit, Japanese festivals, Persian Festivals, and the Proclaiming Colorado’s Black History exhibit that just opened. These are incredibly popular events that bring many people into the city. It would be a wonderful opportunity to identify areas with historic cultural significance and use them to create cultural heritage centers. The way the city is incorporating Indigenous history into our Open Spaces, such as the recently renamed People’s Crossing and the Fort Morgan site, is heading in the right direction. As the city creates these events and spaces in partnership with communities whose heritage we are celebrating, we will begin to attract more tourists to our city.

Our state and national demographics are changing, and aside from the social importance of making history inclusive, if we are to attract tourists we must be inviting more cultures into our historical celebrations so we can better honor and celebrate the many different cultures and heritages we have in our city. We will not attract future residents, businesses, and workers to our city if we focus 95% of Heritage Tourism on Boulder’s European-American history, which often strips the unique European cultures from history too. As we do more to honor the diverse cultural history of our city, the lands we are on, and the people who have called this area home since time immemorial, we will become a destination for Heritage Tourism.

3. Q. How could the city’s Historic Preservation program provide affordable housing and protect our historic and cultural resources?

Speer: I do not believe the Historic Preservation program is an appropriate mechanism for affordable housing. I agree that smaller homes are better for affordability as well as for efficient use of space and resources such as water and energy. Our need to ensure we have a supply of smaller homes is particularly relevant given our aging population and lower birth rates, which will lead to fewer households with children in coming decades.

Landmarking is a separate issue from affordability, and even from home size. When a home is landmarked, every detail of future changes is subject to landmarks review. This can create a costly and frustrating process for the lower- and middle-income residents who may, for example, find themselves in a position where they are denied the opportunity to replace old, leaky windows to lower their energy bills.

In addition, most of the older, smaller homes that might be considered to have unique historical significance for the Historic Preservation program are on parcels of land that are so expensive even those smaller and older homes will never be affordable. For affordability, the cost of the building needs to be separated from the cost of the land. An organization such as Historic Boulder could create a community land trust that buys historical properties and redevelops them as appropriate, using them for affordable housing.

We ought to be protecting property (land and buildings) with unique history. When the building rather than the land is of historical significance, we ought to have a mechanism for preserving the building by moving it to another location (e.g., the railroad building at Depot Square). When we wish to incentivize smaller homes and affordability, we ought to be looking to our Inclusionary Housing program. For example, Council is looking at changes to the Inclusionary Housing program that will require homeowners who wish to do a significant expansion or extensive renovations on an existing single-family home to pay Inclusionary Housing fees. This program will help quite a bit in incentivizing adaptive reuse of buildings and building smaller homes and all proceeds will go toward the city’s affordable housing programs.

4. Q How could the city incorporate preservation of our historic building resources into its environmental sustainability programs?

Speer: There are two challenges to our climate goals when it comes to historic preservation in Boulder. Addressing these challenges by affording more flexibility to homeowners and developers may create less pressure to demolish older buildings and replace them with something new.

The first challenge is that renovations of older buildings need to be within a certain (relatively small) percentage of energy efficiency relative to a brand new building. This is a very high standard for older buildings to meet, and typically requires rebuilding an older building from the inside out to achieve the high energy efficiency standards newer buildings can achieve. We could relax some of the energy efficiency requirements on landmarked buildings so that they are still high standards for an older building but are not so close to the impossibly high level of newer buildings. This may help with preserving the character of older, landmarked buildings.

The second challenge is that historic preservation limits the replacement of siding, roofing, windows, etc. in ways that do not always align with energy efficiency and climate goals. In Colorado’s climate, early European settlers would probably have chosen aluminum frame windows if they had them available, as they are much more durable and perform well in our harsh climate. Unfortunately, replacing older windows with newer, climate-appropriate, energy-efficient windows is not always allowed. If fireproof siding or aluminum windows helps a home adapt to modern needs while preserving the character of an older building, we ought to allow those reasonable modifications to align with our sustainability goals.

We can also look at adaptive reuse of materials from older buildings as another way to preserve resources from historic buildings that are simply beyond their reasonable lifespan and are too costly to preserve in a useful manner. The reuse of steel beams from the old hospital on Alpine for the new fire station on 30th is a great example of how we can minimize embodied carbon in demolitions and rebuilds of older buildings.

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Paul Tweedle

Could not be reached for comment

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Bob Yates

1. Q. Would you be willing to support the creation of the Central Park historic district?

Yates: As a city council member, I am on record in my unequivocal support for the designation of a Central Park historic district. At the city council meeting on June 14, 2022, I stated my support for the designation of such a historic district as quickly as possible, urging city staff to try to get this accomplished before the end of 2023 (which now appears will not happen in that time).

At that council meeting, on June 14, 2022, council was taking up the somewhat more narrow question of landmarking the remainder of the Bandshell property. I was supportive of that expanded landmarking, but I was in the minority and the landmarking expansion was voted down by council that night, 5-4.

My support for the designation of a Central Park historic district can be viewed at the YouTube video of the June 14, 2022, city council meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0dIiOcwl4E), starting at 2:23 on the recording.

If I am elected mayor, I will make completion of the Central Park historic district designation one of my priorities for 2024, and I will urge my council colleagues to join me in that designation.

2. Q. Do you have ideas about how to expand Heritage Tourism in Boulder?

Yates: As the president for four years of the Boulder History Museum, and subsequently chairman and co-creator of the Museum of Boulder, I am acutely aware of the return on investment that historic tourism provides a local economy. When I led the Museum, we commissioned a study in 2012 by nationally-recognized firm AECOM to evaluate the economic impact to Boulder of the creation of a new museum, better showcasing Boulder’s history. We used the results of that study to convince the city manager in 2014 to place on the ballot the first Community, Culture, and Safety tax, which was used in part to fund creation of the new Museum, and to preserve Chautauqua and the Dairy Arts Center (where I was then board treasurer and secretary, respectively). The voters overwhelmingly passed that 2014 ballot measure, recognizing the significant return on investment that expanded heritage tourism would bring our local economy.

Since 2016, I have served on the board of directors of Visit Boulder (formerly Convention & Visitors Bureau). At our board meetings, we frequently discuss the significant positive impact that heritage tourism plays in our greater efforts to bring both day and overnight visitors to Boulder, and Visit Boulder has funded several heritage tourism initiatives, all of which I have supported. And, of course, I have enjoyed portraying Andrew Macky at each of the last few Meet the Spirit celebrations at Columbia Cemetery, which draws a surprising number of out-of-town visitors.

As we look to the future, I would like to weave more heritage tourism into what we do to lure and to educate visitors. For example, while our before-and-after plaques showing the history of historic buildings on Pearl Street are nice, we can make them more interactive through QR code audio recordings on those plaques, and with scheduled historic tours of Downtown for both adults and children. I want to expand our historic house tours (where I have volunteered as a guide) and visits to Columbia Cemetery (where I volunteer to preserve headstones). The Carnegie is a place we need to preserve and protect, notwithstanding its transfer to the new Library District. And, we need to ensure that the historic collection—both artifacts and 2-D objects—held by the Boulder Historical Society, are preserved as the society works through its current financial challenges (which I am assisting with).

3. Q. How could the city’s Historic Preservation program provide affordable housing and protect our historic and cultural resources?

Yates: I served on city council in 2018, when we liberalized the city’s rules on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). As part of those rule changes that year, we passed a law that provided that an ADU that is on a property that is designated as an individual landmark, or which is recognized as contributing to a designated historic district, is eligible for special size and parking concessions, making the ADU more likely to be used for affordable housing. This is a win-win for housing affordability and historic preservation, and should encourage more owners of historic properties to consider landmarking.

What we did for ADUs in 2018 is exactly what we should look to do in the future. A good example is the protection we provided for the re-use of the 1923 Marpa House. The house was landmarked as a condition to its re-purposing as student housing. While some historic buildings may be too costly to save or re-purpose (the Millennium Harvest House being a recent example), we must reward property owners who are willing to take the dual steps of converting a historic building into affordable housing, while preserving its character in perpetuity through landmarking.

4. Q How could the city incorporate preservation of our historic building resources into its environmental sustainability programs?

Yates: During my eight years on council, we have made it increasingly difficult to demolish an existing building if it can be saved and adaptively re-used. Of course, examples abound, from the 1906 Cold Storage Building (BMoCA) to the 1971 Watts-Hardy Dairy (Dairy Arts Center) to the 1948 Masonic Lodge (Museum of Boulder), the latter two of which I have been involved in preserving and repurposing.

The next two on my list of buildings to be preserved and re-used are the 1969 Midland Savings Bank building, currently city offices, soon to be vacated; and the 1942 former Alfalfa’s building (also former Safeway and former Pioneer Cemetery), which is vacant. While the former was recently landmarked, both buildings are superior candidates for adaptive re-use, perhaps for a year-round food market (bank) and a performing arts center (grocery store). Regardless of their use, these buildings must be re-incorporated into the fabric of our community, achieving the dual purpose of historic preservation and environmental sustainability, keeping carbon where it has reposed happily for decades.

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