City, residents, business make plans for heart of Grand Junction
Gordon Nicholson gazes at the mammoth house, the one whose red brick exterior and interior woodwork appear virtually the same as they did when it was built more than a century ago. And the neighbor who lives a block away can’t imagine a thing changing in an area that prides itself on being a place where time stands still.
Ron and Sherri DeRose see those unique touches, too. But as the owners of 604 N. Seventh St., they also see four of the five bedrooms whose sheets are never wrinkled, a large, unfinished attic they’ve never touched and 6,200 square feet of living space that engulfs their collection of antiques and trophy animal heads. The DeRoses and a couple who would like to buy their house think there could be a better use for this place.
The house at the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Chipeta Avenue sits within Grand Junction’s so-called Original Square Mile, the heart of the city that was settled in the years after the community’s founding in 1882, and contains the oldest buildings in town.
City planners, residents and business owners have spent the past couple of years crafting a plan that will guide future development of the Original Square Mile. That work has gone virtually unnoticed — until now.
Harold and Kathleen Timmens have floated a proposal to turn the DeRoses’ house into a bed and breakfast in the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District, arguably the city’s most recognizable and respected neighborhood and one of two such districts in Colorado. They have yet to file a formal development application, but that hasn’t stopped a torrent of concerns and criticism from neighbors, a heated neighborhood meeting and debate over whether the city’s zoning codes permit such a land use.
The DeRoses say they and the Timmenses have been made out as villains for a possible project they believe would have little or no effect on the neighborhood.
“Our perspective is ... it’s no different than inviting family to spend the night,” Kathleen Timmens said.
But opponents say allowing what they argue is a commercial enterprise to infiltrate a residential area could ultimately erode the neighborhood and, consequently, a slice of Grand Junction’s history.
City officials have proposed a temporary moratorium on zoning and land-use applications in residential sections of the area to give stakeholders time to wade through the contentious matter.
“It could be the tip of the iceberg, the first domino, and pretty soon we have not a historic residential district but a B&B district,” Nicholson said. “You set a precedent for more and more businesses to move into the last intact four blocks of historic residential property in all of Grand Junction.”
The original plat for the city, a square mile that covered First to 12th streets and South to North avenues, concentrated commercial development along Main Street in what became the central business district and single-family homes north of Grand Avenue.
Growth patterns largely followed that palette until the early 1980s, when apartment buildings, commercial businesses and office space began to encroach upon lower-density housing.
A downturn in the economy led to absentee homeownership, according to Kathy Portner, the city’s neighborhood services manager who has helped develop the so-called Strategic Downtown Master Plan.
But that has changed in recent years, with a resurgence in owner-occupied homes within the Original Square Mile. That translated to renewed interest in strengthening the area, particularly north of Grand Avenue, as a haven for single-family homes.
North Seventh Street residents are adamant about keeping it that way.
The historic district, with its stately homes and towering trees, has long been renowned as an area where homes were passed down from generation to generation and, consequently, rarely went on the market.
But the passage of time, the deaths of family patriarchs and matriarchs and lifestyle changes have shifted the neighborhood’s foundation.
NEW IDEAS, NEW INTERESTS
Mesa County assessor records show eight of the 26 structures used as single-family homes in the district have sold in the past five years. For-sale signs are planted in the yards of three homes lining the east side of Seventh Street.
“When that starts happening, you get new blood, new ideas and new interests,” Sherri DeRose said.
She said she fell in love with their home the minute she stepped inside for a tour in 2001.
But after eight years, the DeRoses are ready for a change. The empty-nesters own land where they would like to build a smaller house and a shop where they could tinker with their antiques.
The DeRoses have had their home listed for 2 1/2 years and dropped their asking price by more than $300,000 in that time.
They have yet to receive an offer but may have a buyer if the Timmenses can secure financing and convert the house to a three-room bed and breakfast.
The Timmenses, who have lived in Grand Junction for nearly five years, say they’ve wanted to own and operate a bed and breakfast for years. They spotted the DeRoses’ place about a year ago while attending an open house next door.
Kathleen Timmens said she and her husband don’t want to ruin the historic aspects of the neighborhood and plan to alter as little of the house as possible.
“It would be different if we wanted to tear down the building or add onto it. But we don’t want to do anything different,” she said.
Neighbors, though, view a bed and breakfast as a commercial operation, saying it would create more traffic and generate revenue for its owners, who would pay lodging tax to the city. Additional parking would be required.
In Pat Olson’s mind, that converts a building from a residential use to something that’s primarily a nonresidential use and instead a “visible” business.
That’s different and less compatible with the neighborhood, he said, than an “invisible” business such as a home office.
“As soon as you start to change the use of buildings, you start to threaten the historical designation. You lose what’s unique about Grand Junction,” said Olson, whose wife’s family has lived in the house at 445 N. Seventh St. since her grandparents built it in 1923.
KEEPS BUILDINGS IN USE
Officials with the Colorado Historical Society don’t appear to agree.
Laurie Dunklee, spokeswoman for the Colorado State Historical Fund, a program within the Historical Society that distributes historic preservation grants to local communities, said she didn’t think the bed and breakfast would intrude upon or threaten the historic district.
“That use … keeps historic buildings in use,” she said. “In this case, it’s pretty close to residential. You’re still using it for people. It’s not like you’re bringing machines in there or turning it into a pet shelter.”
Tempers flared at a neighborhood meeting last month when the DeRoses, the Timmenses, city planners and neighbors gathered to discuss the possible bed and breakfast.
The DeRoses said neighbors assumed a “mob mentality” against city planners and the Timmenses.
“The Timmenses didn’t deserve a double-barreled shotgun, and that’s what they got,” Ron DeRose said.
Olson acknowledged the meeting began “with a little bit of negativity toward the Timmenses” because residents believed a bed and breakfast wasn’t allowed within the district and were puzzled why one was being proposed.
“It became very rapidly apparent that the Timmenses really didn’t know a lot of history about the district and the various things that had been done over the years to preserve the district,” he said.
Olson disputed the notion that neighbors acted inappropriately and said it was Ron DeRose who stood up at one point and “blew up.”
Harold Timmens said he and his wife didn’t anticipate the backlash they’ve received. But it’s clear, he said, they’ve “hit a beehive.”
“I kind of feel sorry for people who want to sell their homes and want to do something with it, and they can’t,” he said. “It seems like they have to keep it just the way it is.”
The furor over the bed and breakfast, coupled with ongoing planning efforts within the Original Square Mile, has prompted city officials to propose a six-month moratorium on any development applications that would change the land use or zoning in residential areas from First to 12th streets and Grand to North avenues. The City Council will consider the moratorium Monday.
Whether it’s a moratorium or zoning regulations, historic district residents believe their neighborhood deserves some protection.
“It’s a unified organism. If you start messing with one part of the organism, the whole organism gets sick,” Olson said. “We’ve got a very special organism there. It would be nice to keep it healthy.”