Vocal opponents claim city ignoring them on historic district changes
It started five months ago with some verbal volleys lobbed during a neighborhood meeting in which a local couple floated a plan to convert a turn-of-the-century house in Grand Junction’s historic district into a small bed and breakfast.
The debate over whether to introduce something new into one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods has since mushroomed into a potential legal battle over what the four-block stretch of the Seventh Street Historic Residential District will look like in the years to come.
The City Council is scheduled to decide Monday night whether to adopt a plan and zoning overlay that will guide future development of the city’s so-called Original Square Mile, an area that includes the Seventh Street Historic District. Council members also will consider a zoning overlay for the historic district that would allow a variety of uses beyond the traditional single-family home that has defined the district for more than a century.
They are likely to face a hostile crowd.
Several historic district residents who insist that their neighborhood remain
virtually untouched have hired an attorney, held a rally in a local park two weeks ago, dug up old documents they claim support their stance and installed inflatable holiday ornaments in their front yards to express their opposition to any land-use changes.
They accuse city officials of bypassing public hearings to consider certain land-use applications and allow them to express their concerns and ignoring the wishes of most historic district residents.
“They’re being cut out of the process,” said Jodie Behrmann, a Grand Junction attorney who specializes in land-use and zoning issues and is representing eight residents. “A lot of these people are longtime residents. They’ve poured their heart and soul into this area, and now the city wants to come in and capitalize on their efforts.”
City Public Works and Planning Director Tim Moore said city officials aren’t proposing anything different in the historic district than what the city’s zoning code calls for.
Historic district residents disagree. They point to a 1984 plan that required any changes in use to single-family homes to be approved by the Planning Commission and City Council.
City officials have said there’s no evidence the plan was adopted 25 years ago, and therefore it isn’t legally binding. Behrmann, though, has pointed to instances in which the city enforced codes and rejected development proposals based on the plan.
City planners last month approved an application from Ron and Sherri DeRose to turn their home at 604 N. Seventh St. into a bed and breakfast. Behrmann and a group of historic district residents have appealed the decision.
They also have aired their frustration in the form of lawn ornaments consisting of hearses, turkeys and rabbits. Messages range from “Bury Downtown Development Plan” to “The City is Gobbling up 7th St.” to “Hop on Down” to Monday’s council meeting.
Earlier this summer, the city surveyed historic district residents to get their feedback on what they want to see happen in their neighborhood. A large majority of those who responded indicated they want buildings to continue to be used as they are now and want a public hearing in the event a change is proposed.
According to the survey, which was filled out by 17 people, 78 percent agreed that building use should remain the same. Eighty-nine percent agreed that any change in use, except for a home-based business and day care, should require a public hearing.
Asked whether uses other than those currently allowed in residential zones should be allowed without a public hearing, anywhere from 71 percent to 94 percent said no.
Yet the overlay district proposed by city planners would allow small bed and breakfasts, accessory units and sub-units in the historic district without a public hearing.
“If they’re going to be charged with making a decision on behalf of all the residents, they should at least listen to the people who live there,” Behrmann said.
Seventh Street resident Sharon Snyder echoed that sentiment, saying, “It’s not a good feeling, because no one will listen to you.”
But Moore said city officials are listening. He said they evaluated and took into consideration comments from residents, and it’s not clear that a majority of the historic district feels the same way as Snyder and some others do. He said only half of the 35 historic district property owners contacted by the city responded to the survey.
Sherri DeRose said she believes building some flexibility into how single-family homes in the historic district can be used will allow those homes to persevere for years to come, not ruin the neighborhood.
“When (the homes) come to a point where people no longer want to heat or cool or maintain them, there needs to be another way to use them,” she said.