Carmen Court compromise remains elusive but negotiations continue

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

Denver City Council members expressed hope Tuesday that a compromise can be reached in the Carmen Court landmark fight, and the two sides agreed to go back to the negotiating table for a third time.

The owners of the six units within the condo complex at 900 E. 1st Ave. are under contract to sell the 95-year-old building to Houston-based developer Hines, which wants to demolish it to build a senior housing complex.

Nearby residents, however, have asked the city to designate the building a landmark, which would effectively prevent demolition and scuttle the sale to Hines.

The council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee discussed the landmark application for a second time Tuesday. Rather than taking a vote on whether to send the matter to the full council — where a final decision would be made — they gave both sides a week to decide whether to extend the date by which the council must rule on the application. For now, that deadline is in early October.

Chris Crawford, managing director of Hines, expressed his preference regarding a compromise on Tuesday. If the company can’t move forward with demolition, he would like the applicants to find another buyer interested in preserving Carmen Court willing to purchase the condo complex under the same terms.

The price that Hines has agreed to pay for the property has not been disclosed, but it was listed for sale at $5.5 million. Hines also wants to be reimbursed for the costs it’s incurred pursuing the property, not counting staff salaries.

“The 45-day window is to identify a reputable developer that is capable of doing this,” Crawford said Tuesday, referring to a 45-day extension that was discussed but not ultimately implemented.

Still, this is not a new idea. Katie Sisk, who owns one of the Carmen Court units, said the landmark applicants were told back in early May that Hines was willing to walk away if an alternate buyer could be found.

(Left to right) Karen Roehl, Mary Ann O’Hara and husband Gary Laura, Katie Sisk and Terrie Curry collectively own four of the units at Carmen Court. (BizDen file photo)

A second possible compromise was discussed in the past. Hines is also under contract to buy several smaller parcels south of the Carmen Court building. If the company was allowed to build higher on those properties, the thinking goes, it wouldn’t need to completely demolish Carmen Court.

Crawford said that would only be possible if the company could purchase an additional lot, and if zoning allowed 16 stories instead of the current five. Even then, he did not seem too keen on the idea.

“In all likelihood, that’s something the neighborhood might find repugnant, something the City’s planning officials are probably unlikely to support, and hence something for which Council is unlikely to approve a rezoning,” Crawford said in an email after the meeting. “We didn’t come to the 16-floor plan to be difficult. Rather, it is the design that yields all the building attributes, features and facilities from our original five story plan, with acceptable pro forma economics.”

There was some optimism. Malcolm Murray, one of the applicants seeking to make the building a landmark, said he knows more than he did during earlier discussions of compromise.

“We have a lot more information and can have much more productive discussions,” he said.

The council tried to make compromise in these situations more likely last year, when it required landmark applicants and owners to meet with a mediator present. And while they predated that mandate, recent high-profile landmark fights, like Tom’s Diner at 601 E. Colfax and the Olinger Moore Howard Chapel at 4535 W. 46th Ave., did end with alternative buyers being found and the buildings preserved.

In fact, there’s only been one time that the council voted to make a building a landmark against the wishes of its owner. That decision, for the former Beth-Eden Baptist Church at 3241 Lowell Blvd., was made in 2014.

In exploring a possible delay, council members made clear that they hope the decision doesn’t ultimately come down to them.

“Maybe we can’t resolve this,” said Councilman Jolon Clark, whose district includes Carmen Court. “And maybe we have to have a soul-crushing night (by the city council) to determine that. I hope not. I really hope not.”

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