Landmark application submitted for Carmen Court against owners’ wishes

The condo complex at the corner of 1st Avenue and Emerson Street dates to 1925. (BizDen file photo)

Should the six owners of a small condominium complex off Speer Boulevard be allowed to sell to a developer who would tear down the structure?

Or is the 95-year-old building at the corner of 1st Avenue and Emerson Street so notable that city leaders should designate it a landmark, which would prohibit demolition and likely scuttle the deal?

That’s the debate that was set into motion on Tuesday, when three individuals who live near the Carmen Court complex submitted a formal landmark application to the city, after signaling they were likely to do so last month.

The residents who signed the application are Sarah McCarthy, Malcolm Murray and Mark Harris. Each lives within three-quarters of a mile of the complex.

Carmen Court sits on an approximately 0.4-acre lot that is zoned for up to five stories, according to property records. The units, which are across the street from a small park, have the addresses of 900, 908 and 916 E. 1st Ave., and 76, 84 and 90 N. Emerson St.

Executives with Houston-based developer Hines, whose Denver projects include the 40-story office tower at 1144 15th St., told BusinessDen last month they are under contract to buy the complex as well as a couple neighboring parcels. The company wants to build a senior living complex on the site, which would comply with the current zoning.

In Denver, three city residents can apply to make a building a landmark even if that goes against the wishes of the property owner. The applicants must prepare a report and pay an $875 fee. The application then is considered by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission. If the commission believes the application has merit, it is sent to be considered by City Council.

With the landmark application submitted Tuesday, the next step is for the landmark commission to determine whether the application is complete.

Last year, council members required individuals considering so-called “hostile” landmark applications to meet with property owners prior to submitting their application to discuss possible compromises. Those looking to preserve Carmen Court met with the owners of the building and/or Hines four times between late April and last week, according to their application.

“We were hopeful mediation would bring about a positive resolution for the future of 1st and Emerson,” Hines Managing Director Chris Crawford said Wednesday in a statement. “We are disappointed an application was filed, but strongly believe this property does not rise to the level of landmark designation, especially against the wishes of the existing owners.”

“Hines has a 63-year history focused on quality placemaking and development. We continue to believe our proposed boutique, luxury senior living community, built within the existing zoning, will be a tremendous asset to this neighborhood,” Crawford said, adding that the complex’s current owners “stand to realize substantial financial losses if this property is designated against their consent.”

The 34-page application argues that the structure deserves landmark status for multiple reasons. On the architectural side, it “exhibits design quality and integrity as a significant example of the Pueblo Revival style combined with Spanish Revival or Eclectic architectural embellishments,” the application reads. And it says that architect Burt L. Rhoads qualifies as “a recognized architect or master builder.”

Additionally, the application argues, the structure is “a distinctive feature of the Speer Neighborhood,” and “displays a high degree of integrity and promotes an understanding and appreciation of Denver’s urban environment in several ways.”

Tom’s Diner, at 601 E. Colfax Ave., and the former Olinger Moore Howard Chapel at 4345 W. 46th Ave. are two structures that were the target of hostile landmark applications in the past year. In both cases, compromises were found that have resulted in the preservation of the structures.

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