Breckenridge poised to halt new construction, building additions in Historic District |

Breckenridge poised to halt new construction, building additions in Historic District

A sign marks the National Register Historic District in Breckenridge. After a number of buildings in the district were recently downgraded from "contributing" to "non-contributing," the town is looking to put a hold on new construction and building additions while town staff updates the district's design standards.
Eli Pace

If there’s a piece of Breckenridge worth protecting, some people would say it’s the National Register Historic District.

Looking to head off of a potential threat to the district — the delisting of its historic structures — Breckenridge is set to put a moratorium on new construction and building additions next week as town staff work to bring the Historic District’s design standards, originally adopted in 1992, better in line with state and federal guidelines.

“I’m all for it, though I haven’t heard anything about it,” said Maureen Nicholls, who owns a home in the district and was a staunch advocate for creating the district about four decades ago.

Nicholls is still bitter about the decision to allow cellphone towers inside the Historic District and said she’d favor protecting the district and its historic buildings from other forms of new construction, too.

“I think (the town’s) already way behind in allowing a lot of this construction,” she said. “In other words, it’s already happened.”

A recent survey suggests Nicholls might be right. Still, Breckenridge Town Council unanimously favored the six-month hold last week on first reading and is ready to pass the measure again next Tuesday, this time as an emergency ordinance so it will take effect immediately.

While the suggested time frame was set at six months, the moratorium could be lifted as soon as the town can get new design standards in place for its Historic and Conservation Districts, which mostly overlap each other.

The problem driving the hold is detailed in a memo produced by town staff that says survey work completed in 2018, in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office, has led to some structures in Breckenridge’s Historic District being downgraded from “contributing” to “non-contributing.”

Over the phone, Lindsay Johansson, a compliance manager with the preservation office, said that 21 buildings in Breckenridge’s Historic District had their “eligibility updated” following the 2018 survey due to rehabilitation or extensive remolding projects.

The state office administers the national historic preservation program in Colorado by reviewing nominations for the National Register of Historic Places, maintaining data on historic properties that have been identified but not yet nominated, and consulting with federal agencies.

The State Historic Preservation Office has also designated Breckenridge as a Certified Local Government, meaning the preservation office and National Park Service have both endorsed the town to participate in the federal preservation program while maintaining standards consistent with the National Historic Preservation Act and Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Archaeology and Historic Preservation.

While the State Historic Preservation Office has downgraded some Breckenridge structures because of modifications or additions made to the buildings over the last 10-plus years, it has identified some newer buildings, from a different period of significance, inside the Historic District that might now quality for the registry after aging into the requirements.

The primary concerns leading to the historic building downgrades were the size, proportion, form and orientation of building additions; their proximity to the historic structure; overall lot coverage; parking or driveway access and some of the building connectors.

Proposed changes to the design standards include limiting the size of additions to “respect the proportions of the historic building.” Additions and new secondary structures should be limited in height to no more than half-a-story taller than the surviving historic structure.

Other suggested changes to the town’s design standards speak to roof forms, sidewalls, defining when it’s appropriate for an addition to be wider than the historic building and limiting the number of building connectors to one.

The problem with connectors, when they’re not underground, is they can be too long or wide, making the addition and historic structure look like a single building on a site that historically had only housed modestly-sized structures.

“Our goal with these proposed standards then is to limit connectors in size and function to that which is needed to efficiently connect the historic home to the addition, but leave enough separation between the two structures to make them appear as two separate modules,” the memo states.

According to the preservation office’s database, there are 334 places in Colorado either listed or eligible to become a historic district.

Johansson said she doesn’t know of any districts being delisted simply because individual structures in them were downgraded, but the agency has removed properties from the registry after extensive renovations of a structure.

Breckenridge’s Historic District was put on the register in 1980. At the time, the district encompassed 45 full blocks with 180 structures total and 118 of them identified as “contributing” and 48 as “compatible,” Johansson said.

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