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Historic designation pits neighbor against neighbor in Denver's Congress Park

Steele Street Extension includes two blocks
Posted at 6:16 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 20:16:56-05

DENVER — Caroline Caselli knew when she bought her house in Congress Park, it was a bit of a fixer upper.

“These single pane windows, they look a little rough,” she said.

Single pane windows, no central air and a super steep staircase are some of the house's features that need improvement.

“It’s pretty easy to slip and fall,” Caselli said, walking down her staircase. “I’ve already had two people do that, so far.”

But she also saw the potential in this Congress Park craftsman.

“It’s a great neighborhood,” Caselli said. “I really love it. It’s close to everything.”

Now, she’s dealing with a new issue. There’s an effort to designate two blocks on her side of Steele Street as historic.

That likely means all those modifications, like switching from single to double pane windows and moving her staircase and side door, could come with a lot more red tape and a much larger price tag.

“If it’s a single pane window, you have to attempt to repair the single pane window prior to replacing it,” Caselli said.

She is against the historic designation.

“It limits her ability to use her property as she sees fit,” said Kevin Matthews with a group called YIMBY Denver. YIMBY stand for Yes In My Backyard.

YIMBY opposes the historic designation because it limits future development in a city already hamstrung by unaffordable housing.

“We want to see infill in neighborhoods,” Matthews said. “Basically, fighting for more housing, more affordable housing, more abundant housing.”

But there are others who say this historic designation would protect this street from over-development.

“The problem is if we don’t have designation, then these houses could be scraped,” said Steve Kick, who has lived here for 22 years. “Our house was built in 1919, so more than 100 years ago. We feel like we’re stewards of these buildings.”

Kick is sympathetic to his neighbor’s concerns.

“I can appreciate where she is, but from my perspective, she’s got choices,” he said. “She could make modifications that are in keeping with landmark status.”

Caselli and others argue this is about giving homeowners the freedom to do what they want, which, yes, also includes potential development in the future.

“We need more accessory dwelling units,” Matthews said.

“How do you make Denver more affordable?” said Caselli. “You increase density. I’m not advocating for a scrape off on my property. The lot is too small, and the return on investment isn’t there for a developer. But it does make sense for some.”

Denver7 reached out to Councilman Chris Hinds for comment, but we have not heard back.

“I’m hopeful he’ll hear our opposition,” Caselli said of Councilman Hinds and other council members voting on this designation.

“They don’t make more historic neighborhoods,” Kick said.

This issue is set to go before the full city council on December 6.