Breckenridge looks to certify builders for historic homes
BRECKENRIDGE – After witnessing a series of reconstruction projects in which contractors and crews tossed or otherwise ruined historic fabric on old homes, the town of Breckenridge is toying with the idea of requiring certifying contractors to work on historic structures.”There’s a certain frustration at the town with citizens because historic fabric is being lost on projects,” said Councilmember Larry Crispell, who sits on the town’s Historic Preservation Committee. “It’s been difficult to put some mechanism in place that works.”Most recently, crews removed an addition on a house they believed didn’t belong to the original historic home.A homeowner on Ridge Street fought with the town after he removed historic siding from his home and wanted to replace it with siding of a different size.Another homeowner threw away the historic siding on his house.”I think it’s worth a try,” said planning commissioner Herman Haering. “Doing nothing, we’ve found out what the failures have been.”
Councilmember Jim Lamb understands the difficulty involved in working with historic homes. He is in the midst of renovating his historic home on Harris Street, a job he estimates has taken him twice as long as new construction would have because the town required him to preserve the historic fabric.”Doing restoration work on historic houses involves a whole new set of skills and concerns that we have learned don’t automatically come with some of the contractors and builders,” he said. “It’s one thing to build a house, it’s a whole different thing to rebuild a historic structure. It’s a whole set of new challenges.”Town officials understand that some historic fabric can’t be reused, so they allow builders to use similar materials to closely replicate the historic structure.The historic fabric in Lamb’s home included rough-hewn, wooden plank walls, newspapers dating from 1881 and used as insulation, old windows and square nails.Lamb had to take it all down to insulate the walls and install an electrical system that met building codes. And he had to replace it all in its original positions, although he did cover it up with drywall.Lamb also wanted to put windows in their original locations.
“The building department said if I wanted to return my windows to their original openings, in order to be structurally sound I needed to frame up around the windows,” he said. “In doing so, there’s that challenge of being sensitive to historic fabric, that blending old construction with new construction. You don’t want to chop up the house. You’re walking on eggshells a lot of times.”The Historic Preservation Committee and the planning commission – the only two groups that have discussed the idea so far – have yet to determine how a certification program would work.”In the past, we slapped them with fines of $5,000 to $10,000 thinking it was a pretty significant penalty,” Lamb said. “Apparently not. It keeps happening.”Crispell envisions a carrot and stick approach that could involve issuing a special permit to do work on historic homes.Part of that could involve bringing the homeowner, contractor and town planning staff together to ensure all involved know what can and can’t be removed from a home.
“Some of the confusion in the past has been when a homeowner says, ‘I didn’t do anything; I didn’t know what was going on,’ and the contractor says, ‘I’m just doing my job,'” Crispell said. “That’s the situation we want to avoid. This gives the town the opportunity to educate the contractor about the values the citizens of Breckenridge have and how important historic fabric is,” he added.The stick end of the deal could involve restricting a contractor’s ability to work on historic preservation projects within the town.”We want to make sure the right thing gets done,” said Councilmember Eric Mamula. “We have too many cases where the town ends up holding the bag because someone along the way didn’t know what they were doing, and they were throwing a bunch of stuff away. Once stuff’s thrown away, it’s gone.”Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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