In Boulder, like many other cities, there are a number of historic districts designed to save the architecture of individual buildings but also the overall look and feel of a neighborhood. In addition to this kind of district-based preservation, there are programs to save individual buildings where the immediate neighborhood may not justify a district designation or there is just too much homeowner resistance to the idea. In Boulder, the program to preserve single buildings is called Individual Landmark Designation and the criteria are in line with many other such programs across the nation.
What is abundantly clear as espoused in almost every public meeting, is why in the world would anyone want to have their building designated in that way and held to the close scrutiny for any changes in the future. I would like to describe some of the benefits of this kind of individual landmark designation:
- Tax Credits. There are state tax credits available for approved renovations to designated properties. These credits can be applied for work to rehab the exterior siding, roofing, windows, and other exterior details. Maybe most applicable however, is that these credits can be gained for upgrading interior systems as well – electrical, heating, cooling, etc.
- Commercial tax credits. These are similar as those described above, but are federal tax credits and are only available for commercial properties. However, residential rental properties are eligible. As Boulder moves forward with its SmartRegs ordinance requiring the upgrading of energy systems for residential rental units, these kinds of tax credits may apply and greatly offset some of the costs of complying.
- Sales Tax Credits. Local sales taxes for building materials can be waived if the materials represent at least 30% of the value of the materials are for the building’s exterior.
- State Grants. If sponsored by a local municipality, some renovation costs may be paid for from a grant fund from the Colorado State Historical fund. The Boulder Landmarks Board reviews and often approves this type of request as a benefit to building owners as an incentive for preservation.
- Regulatory relief. As Boulder has layered more restrictive requirements on the development of properties in the city, the potential of this aspect of preservation has become more important. Anyone owning an individually landmarked building can petition the Landmarks Board to approve their proposed changes even though some of the new work may be in violation of the Solar Shadow ordinance, zoning requirements, the new Compatible Development regulations like bulk planes, and even some aspects of the International Building Code.
And the negatives of individual landmark designation:
- Alterations. If your building is individually landmarked, then any changes you might like to make to the building will have to be reviewed by either the Historic Preservation staff or the Landmarks Board. This is not as painful or fear-inducing as it might appear at first. Most all changes can be reviewed and approved with a simple sit down meeting with staff and the Design Review Committee of the Landmarks Board. These are casual meetings held every Wednesday where the homeowner, staff and committee members talk over the project, discuss the merits and make suggestions, and often approve the changes right away. Major changes, like partial demolitions and major additions, take longer to work through and the committee and staff can usually provide advice to make the project better while still preserving the building and meeting the desires of the homeowner.
- Demolition. An individually landmarked building can not be demolished unless proven unsafe for use and/or habitation. This may limit some future speculator’s designs on your property, but did you really want your legacy in the neighborhood to be new McMansion down the street.
- Costs. Unlike so many taxes and fees, the costs for applying for individual landmark designation is crazy cheap – $25 bucks.
So, if you love your house, if you don’t plan on demolishing it, it might be eligible for designation. And this is not a program for only those grand old Victorian houses, but for anything that has some architectural or historical significance, including mid-century modernist buildings and the odd, quirky structures that give Boulder its architectural character. What is missing from Boulder’s list of individually designated buildings are those wonderful, sometimes odd, buildings and houses designed in the 1950’s and 60’s when Boulder came into its own as a place of scientific excellence, environmental consciousness and progressive ideals. Those buildings, designed by Charles Haertling, James Hunter, Hobie Wagner, Jacques Hampton and others reflect not so much a specific style copped from the East Coast, but the individual desires of their clients and the liberating topography of the West. These buildings, beyond their architectural brillance, represent the best of what Boulder is and still strives to be. And we should honor these buildings and their spirit by preserving their essence and ensuring that our kids will come to know Boulder by these buildings and not the newly minted McMansions of generic neighborhoods.