Breckenridge stops taking development permits in Historic District

Moratorium in response to state office downgrading buildings in the district from “contributing” to “non-contributing”

Breckenridge resident C.J. Milmoe addresses Breckenridge Town Council on Tuesday at town hall, telling the elected officials that a proposed emergency ordinance putting a hold on development permits in the Conservation District was missing pages.
Eli Pace /

Breckenridge Town Council has put a hold on most development permits in the heart of town, effectively stopping new construction early in the building season.

The decision is in response to a new challenge within the town’s National Register Historic District, and leaders unanimously passed a moratorium on permits in the Conservation District Tuesday night via an emergency ordinance. The moratorium is designed to stop new additions to historic structures while the town looks to update its design standards so the buildings won’t lose their individual historic designations and degrade the overall integrity of the Historic District, said Councilwoman Wendy Wolfe.

“Authenticity is an important word,” she said. “I think authenticity is hard to earn, hard to keep and hard to maintain, but I think it’s an important word.”

As passed, the moratorium could span up to six months, which would constitute the bulk of the summer construction season, but Wolfe, other council members and town staff have said the hold could be lifted sooner if the town can get its design standards updated in time. Because it was passed as an emergency ordinance, it takes effect immediately.

“I feel a sense of urgency to get right on this,” Wolfe added.

The emergency ordinance was adjusted from an earlier version to exempt Class D permits, which cover small projects like new roofing, signage, fencing or minor remodels. The hold on permits covers the Conservation District, which encompasses the town’s prized Historic District.

The problem was triggered by a state survey suggesting Breckenridge is trending in the wrong direction with the size of some of the additions it’s allowed to surviving historic structures in the Historic District. As a result, the State Historic Preservation Office recently downgraded a number of buildings in the district from “contributing” to “non-contributing.”

Local architect Janet Sutterley, who frequently works on projects in the Historic District, has problems with how the survey was conducted and the downgrades.

“That’s a big deal for a lot of people,” she said. “To me, I see (the state survey) as a slap in the face. I know that’s harsh, but I really do.”

Considering all the time and energy town planners, staff, council and homeowners have invested into the Historic District, Sutterley said, she wonders how the state could reward such efforts with a survey she feels was based entirely on “subjective opinions.” Sutterley also said she hopes town leaders will exercise caution and pursue “logical changes” in the design handbook, originally drafted in 1992.

“We need to live here and make this a great Historic District,” Sutterley said. “That doesn’t mean we leave properties as little house museums. These properties that have been downgraded, (the owners) have done amazing work on them. Most of (the renovations that led to downgrades) are really good historic preservations.”

It’s unlikely the Historic District would be delisted itself, said Peter Grosshuesch, director of community development. However, he explained it’s important to watch trends over time, and if town code is consistently producing projects that result in the downgrading of historic structures, at some point there will be consequences. One could be reducing the size of the district.

“I don’t think we’re on the brink of anything like (delisting),” he said, “but the specter is out there. It has happened.”

Addressing the elected officials, Breckenridge resident C.J. Milmoe didn’t oppose the moratorium. Actually, he said the moratorium didn’t go far enough and asked town leaders to halt all ongoing construction in the Historic District, not just new permits, as he pointed out the emergency ordinance was missing a couple of pages.

Addressing Milmoe’s request to stop all construction in the Historic District, the town attorney said property owners who have already secured development permits have vested rights to those developments. As such, putting the brakes on any ongoing projects was “a bridge too far” for Mayor Eric Mamula and other council members.

But council showed its willingness to take heat for stopping most of the new construction projects across the Conservation District by putting a hold on development permits until the town can update its design standards. Additionally, council is putting together a group of invested stakeholders to work on updating the design standards.

In other business

• Nikki LaRochelle, Carol Saade, Chris Tennal and Ian Hamilton were appointed to the Breckenridge Open Space Advisory Committee.

• Council expressed support for the High County Conservation Center’s collaborative climate action plan, an effort to collectively reduce Summit County emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050 below a 2005 baseline. Breckenridge staff will begin working on a proposed budget for council to consider for the development and implementation of the plan, according to the town.

• Council backed a resolution in support of the 2019 Breckenridge Heritage Alliance’s historic resources management plan concerning the BHA’s management of the town’s historic assets. According to the town, approving the plan does not commit funding to the plan, but should help with grant applications.

• Council called up a planning commission decision regarding the Grand Colorado at Peak 8. A hearing before town council is expected on April 23.

• Council amended a lease agreement with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center for the use of the building at 524 Wellington Road by extending the window in which BOEC may purchase the building to June 2023.

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