The fight over the Carmen Court condos continues

A vote to send a potential landmark designation for the Speer neighborhood condos to city council was again delayed to potentially give everyone involved more time to come up with a solution.

900 E. 1st Street in Denver's Speer neighborhood. Aug. 18, 2020.

900 E. 1st Street in Denver's Speer neighborhood. Aug. 18, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Carmen Court owners interested in selling their condos to a developer — and the residents interested in preserving the condos — will get more time to come to a resolution.

After delaying a vote last week to allow for more discussion, Denver City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted again today to delay moving the landmark designation for the full city council to consider.

Now the two groups get to decide by next Tuesday whether they want more time to figure out a possible agreement (on Tuesday, both sides indicated they did). If they don’t come up with an agreement, the land use committee will likely decide on Sept. 1 whether to send the application to the full council.

The landmark designation for the condos at 900 East 1st Ave. is opposed by owners who want to sell their units to Hines, a development company that wants to build a senior living community on the land.

The complex in the Speer neighborhood includes counts six units and seven owners. The 95-year-old adobe complex is located near the Hungarian Freedom Park

Tuesday’s decision came after a plea from Councilman Chris Herndon, the land use committee’s chairman, that both the applicants for the landmark designation and the condo owners return to mediation and come to a conclusion themselves rather than letting the full council decide the fate of the property for them.

Katie Sisk, one of the property owners, said the entire process, which began in the spring, has taken an emotional and physical toll on the condo residents.

“It’s really important perspective that this is our third attempt and that we want resolution, we want solution,” Sisk said during the online meeting, her voice breaking.

Sisk said more time could be helpful. She noted that a compromise suggested in May by the group advocating for preservation would have chosen a new buyer to take over Hines’ contract. Hines partner Chris Crawford said the company was open to someone buying the properties and reimbursing the developer for some expenses.

Malcolm Murray, one of the three residents who filed an application for the landmark status, said he would be “more than happy” to sit down and figure out a compromise. He acknowledged he and others hoping to preserve the buildings have more information about the developer’s plan compared to when talks about an agreement began.

Councilman Jolon Clark, whose district includes the condos, isn’t a member of the land use committee, so he didn’t get to vote on Tuesday. But during Tuesday’s meeting, he foreshadowed a tough evening for him and his peers on council both sides can’t come to an agreement.

“I think if everyone’s willing to really go for 45 days — maybe we can’t resolve this,” Clark said. “And maybe we have to have a soul-crushing night at city council to determine that. I hope not. I really hope not.”

A landmark designation would not prevent property owners from selling.

Changes to such properties are still allowed and can include internal renovations (consider the massive REI store on Platte Street, a historic building once used to build electric streetcar lines). City planning spokesperson Alexandra Foster said exterior changes to landmark-designated buildings must go through a design review from the city’s Landmark Preservation office to ensure the building keeps its historic integrity.

The changes could include partial demolition of a building deemed a landmark if the design is approved. The landmark preservation advocates for Carmen Court argued the developers could build around the condos to preserve them. Crawford has said that would be an expensive workaround.

Last month, the full city council unanimously voted to designate the Howard Berkeley Park Chapel as a landmark.

It was a case similar to Carmen Courts. The designation was initially opposed by the property owners, leading to conversations that resulted in a new buyer. The buyer, announced earlier this year, supported the landmark designation.

Foster said city council has only ever approved one owner-opposed landmark application: the Beth Eden Baptist Church at 3241 Lowell Blvd in 2014.

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