Righting Wrong Done to the Historic Preservation Board and its Public Servants

By Don Bruns
Someone once said that one of the most discourteous things anyone can do, having been well served, is to fail to express gratitude and appreciation.

My opportunity to do that was in a letter of thanks I sent to Historic Preservation Board chairperson Pamela Grove.  I so much appreciate her leadership in synthesizing Board member concerns at its December 19 meeting as it moved to send the LAI Design Group’s Certificate of Historic Appropriateness (COA) application for 2679 West Main Street (Littleton Mixed Use to replace the Valley Feed store) back to staff for revised plans and renderings that fit the project site.

This was some of the best teamwork and clarity that I have ever seen in these chambers.  Board dialogue had acknowledged that the project’s design, scale, mass or volume, height, and character did not conform to the surrounding character of Littleton’s historic main street.

Conversing with fellow Board members—chairperson Grove therefore carefully worded the following motion—quoting:
“I so move that staff work with the applicant of the Littleton mixed use building at 2679 W. Main Street to provide revised plans and renderings that take into account the size of the stories to be more compatible with downtown Littleton buildings, the height of the buildings, the scale, the mass, the style, the proportion to adjacent buildings, and keep in mind that the courthouse and the mill are supposed to be the dominant and the tallest buildings in downtown Littleton, also to consider step back, and to provide renderings at a study session and plans on January 18, including views from Santa Fe and Main Street for further discussion.”

Then she asked, “Will that work?”  In response, the city’s presiding staff attorney stated—quote:
“We just recommend having a motion to continue and then all instructions to staff can be outside of the motion.  So please withdraw the motion.”

Although Board chairperson Grove then withdrew her motion, the attorney’s action clearly overstepped Board prerogatives because it disallowed listing the many concrete ways in which the proposal failed to meet the (COA) criteria or fit the site. HPB was thereby forced to return the application absent specifics of its collective determination.  That meant simply trusting that staff and the applicant would work up a qualifying revised application for reconsideration by the Board on January 18.

So why did the staff attorney intrude?  Was it so that the applicant would not have to address those particulars?  Or, could anyone be blamed for suspecting that it was so that some within the city’s organizational framework could get what they wanted anyhow?  After all, who’s running whom?