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Red tape dooms downtown development

David Stuard, an investor who planned to buy and demolish the DeVore House on Lewis St. in downtown Pagosa Springs and turn it into a parking lot, while at the same time remodeling the old San Juan Supply building next door into a high end restaurant, backed out of the deal Tuesday.

“The Historic Preservation Board’s stance and their request for so much expenditures on my part,” Stuard explained, “just made me say to heck with it. With these problems I don’t want to pursue it. It’s just too expensive to pick up only 11 parking spaces.”

“It has fallen apart,” Pam Barsanti said. “Nothing is going to happen. The deal is not moving forward at this time.” Barsanti is the real estate agent representing the recently-widowed Violet DeVore, who moved to Arizona in 2010 to live with an ailing daughter, and whose recent testimony concerning the financial hardship incurred by the DeVore’s Pagosa property helped the Historic Preservation Board decide to allow the demolition.

“It was just the hoops he had to jump through,” Diane Burnett, the real estate agent representing Stuard in the transaction, confirmed. “It just got so complicated to try to do something to create a restaurant downtown and improve the area. It was something I thought was good, but he just had to jump through too many hoops for approvals and what not. He said it was just too much work.”

Tor Hessman, president of HTI Builders, represented Stuard before the Historic Preservation Board (HPB), the Planning Commission and ultimately Town Council, and in each case gathered and presented more evidence and testimony, including a report from Durango architect R. Michael Bell, an expert in historic restoration.

The HPB, after taking a walking tour of the residence on Oct. 3 and holding a special meeting on Oct. 31, where the issue was debated for over an hour, finally decided to approve the demolition permit, but added five conditions.

1). Document the history of the De Vore Home as it is now and during demolition and findings of the former adobe structure with mapping, plans and photographic records.

2). Provide an interpretive space to highlight the history of the site, preferably in the planting area along the sidewalk where the building once stood.

3). Archive the oral and written history to be produced and made available to the public at the Public Library and the San Juan Historical Society Museum.

4). Adaptive re-use of historically significant materials from the demolished building and of the previous adobe structure foundation be undertaken and any such materials be reused and retained on site.

5). Implementation, retention and maintenance of approved redevelopment landscaping (enforceable under the LUDC).

At their Nov. 5 meeting the Planning Commission decided to drop the last condition from their recommendation to town council because it was outside the purview of the HPB and it pertained more to the redevelopment phase of the permitting process instead of demolition.

On Nov. 3 Town Planner James Dickhoff received an e-mail from Stuard responding to each of the HPB conditions. Stuard was willing to agree to:

1). Give the HPB (or persons of their choosing) access to the structure before, during and after demolition, as long as it does not interfere with the construction timelines and is supervised and controlled by his safety officer, to photograph and possibly map the adobe structure that may be found in order to document the history of the home.

2). Provide a space of his choosing that does not interfere with the parking lot, to be used by the HPB at their expense as an interpretive space to highlight the history of the site. It would fit nicely in the planting area along the sidewalk at its original foundation, however it may be necessary to raise or modify the original foundation to fit in this area.

3). Donate $1,500 to the HPB for the production of whatever oral and written history the board deems appropriate. These funds could be used by the HPB for the interpretive space as well.

4). Make a good faith effort to salvage any items from the site that he deems useful. The HPB will be given access prior to demolition to remove any architectural or historical items that they choose, as long as it is supervised and controlled by his safety officer.

Hessman, testifying at the Nov. 7 town council meeting, explained further, “Mr. Stuard appreciates the HPB’s hard work in this project and has considered the requests with the greatest respect. Please understand that Mr. Stuard is investing a large amount of capital to create a successful restaurant in the downtown area and feels the open access to the building, interpretive space area and cash donation will allow the HPB to fund the items they feel are important to preserving the history of this site.”

An hour before the town council meeting the HPB held an emergency meeting to formulate a response to Stuard’s counter offer to their earlier conditions, and presented the following alternative, “The applicant shall provide a $25,000 deposit to the Town, to cover expenses for the Historic Preservation Board to hire the appropriate personnel and provide for the implementation of the conditions of approval for the demolition.”

Andre Redstone, speaking on behalf of the HPB, argued that when a government agency places conditions on the approval of a permit, it is the responsibility of the applicant, not the government agency, to make sure those conditions are met.

Hessman argued that the applicant is a developer and businessman, not an expert at historical preservation, and that the HPB would have the skills and the knowledge to best determine what needs to be preserved from the structure and how best to create an interpretive display of those items.

In the end, town council voted to allow the demolition, but to uphold the original conditions of the HPB and make Stuard responsible for preserving the history of the DeVore House. The suggestion was made that he could hire a firm, such as R. Michael Bell, to provide the expertise required by the matter.

However, in the end, the bureaucratic red tape became too much of a burden and Stuard decided to withdraw his offer to buy the DeVore property.

He went on to explain several problems he has with the town concerning the other half of the project — the restaurant itself. “There are a couple of issues that we are working with, but the resolution has taken so long now that we are into the winter construction period where we might not be able to pour concrete until next May. If that’s the case, whether I will continue … the answer is probably, ‘No.’”

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

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