Jefferson Park home in historic battle

Highlights:

  • Historic designation hearing for Jefferson Park home on Oct. 6.
  • Developer fighting historic designation.
  • Would historic designation create value or cost homeowner?
This is the home in Jefferson Park that Rafael Espinoza believes deserves historic designation, against the wishes of the homeowner.

This is the home in Jefferson Park that Rafael Espinoza believes deserves historic designation, against the wishes of the homeowner.

The plot thickens in the ongoing saga of a Jefferson Park home that has pitted a developer against a City Councilman and historic preservationists against property right proponents.

Nathan Adams, the largest infill for-sale developer in Jefferson Park, plans to aggressively argue why a home he wants to buy and raze in the increasingly trendy neighborhood doesn’t deserve to be designated as historic, when the issues comes before the Landmark Preservation Committee next week.

The Queen Anne-style home at 2329 Eliot St. has pitted Adams against City Councilman Rafael Espinoza and other Jefferson Park neighbors seeking a “hostile” historic designation against the wishes of the owner, Jim Sonnleitner.

Historic Denver also supports saving the home.

However, Espinoza may have defused what could have been a smoking gun.

The battle was kicked off on May 28 when then councilman-elect Espinoza and three neighbors filed an application for historic designation, without the consent of Sonnleitner.

Landmark Preservation “strongly” suggests in those cases that the applicants meet and discuss the issue with the homeowner.

Espinoza and the other three applicants signed a document saying the “applicants have spoken to the owner about saving the home, but the conversation was not productive.”

Not true.

“This statement is completely false,” Sonnleitner said in a notarized affidavit on Sept. 15.

“The applicants did not contact me prior to the submission of their application and they have not attempted to contact me since,” according to the affidavit.

Espinoza admits mistake in historic application

Espinoza admitted his error on Monday.

“I am prepared to go to the Landmark Preservation Commission and have that struck from the application,” Espinoza said.

“To be honest, I did not know that line was in there,” he said. That is because the application was prepared in “haste” at the 11th hour and they used the same language in an application that had been pulled at the last-minute by neighbor Nick Garcia, he said.

“No attempt was made to deceive anybody,” Espinoza said.

“While the relevant information is true, that part is not, although since then, we made many attempts to contact the owner,” Espinoza said. Espinoza added that he is “frustrated,” because he is convinced Sonnleitner could gain “six figures” more for the house with a historic designation than without.

Adam’s initial reaction was that Espinoza and the other applicants deliberately lied.

“To me, that is just slimy,” Adams said. “It just goes to show they don’t give a damn about ethics. They will create, say or publish anything to push their agenda. That is disgusting.”

When told that Espinoza agreed with him the application was in error and he wanted the inaccurate language removed from the application, Adams wasn’t placated.

“It’s interesting that he signed a hostile historic application and he didn’t even read it first,” Adams said.

“Really? That is horrible,” he said.

Adams Development has offered Sonnleitner the full $1 million he requested for his home, one next to it and surrounding property.

If the home does not receive a historic designation, Adams will tear it down and build 18, 3-story energy-efficient townhomes on the site priced in the high $400,000s.

The architect would be David Berton, owner of RealArchitecture.

“Ironically, David co-wrote the neighborhood plan (for Jefferson Park) with Rafael,” Adams said. The plan was approved about 10 years ago.

The Landmark Preservation Commission will consider the application for historic designation at a meeting that begins at 1 p.m. on Oct. 6.

“We have spent 200 to 300 hours of researching every claim the applicants have made,” Adams said on Monday.

One colorful piece of Colorado history linked to the home is that at one point it had been owned by William Anderson, who has been described as the attorney for Colorado’s infamous cannibal, Alfred Packer.

That piece of “history,” is overblown, at best, according to Adams.

Cannibal ties questionable

“William Anderson was not Alfred Packer’s attorney,” Adams said from his company’s office at 2899 Speer Boulevard.

“He had an attorney-client relationship of 48 hours with Packer, at which time he swindled him out of $25,” Adams said.

He said applicants for historic designation knew this, as it was contained in the same newspaper articles they quoted supporting the application

“The applicants conveniently left that out,” Adams said. “That is a fairly noteworthy piece of information,” which does not support their position.

Espinoza said it is best for the Landmark commission to determine the historic merits of the home.

Plus, he pointed out that Anderson’s colorful history goes beyond Packer, as Anderson  also was charged with shooting the then publishers of the Denver Post.

However, shooting someone should not qualify a home for historic designation, Adams said.

“Are we going to declare James Holmes’ apartment historic? That’s awful,” he said, referring to the man sentenced to life in prison for the 2012 shooting deaths in an Aurora movie theater during the showing of A Dark Knight Rises.

In fact, Adams agrees with those who say even if Anderson had been Packer’s attorney, that should not be grounds for a historic designation.

Adams also said there is no shortage of Queen Anne-style homes in the neighborhood, while he said advocates for historic designation would make you think they are almost extinct.

“We have walked every street in Jefferson Park and there are at least 60 Queen Anne or homes with Queen Anne-type architecture in Jefferson Park,” including 16 on one street, he said.

Queen Anne reigns in Jefferson Park

“To say this is the last Queen Anne and the grand dame of Queen Anne homes in Jefferson Park, is simply not accurate,” Adams said.

Espinoza said he does not disagree that there could be dozens of such homes in Jefferson Park.

“I think you have to look at the pedigree of the home and I would say there are only one or two others on par with this home,” Espinoza said.

Indeed, he said he is talking to the owner of a similarly nice Queen Ann home in Jefferson Park to have him voluntarily declare it a landmark.

It the home is declared a historic landmark, Sonnleitner said he believes that he can sell it to another developer.

“I got a guy lined up, even if it is historic,” Sonnleitner said on Monday.

“If I can get the same amount of money, it does not make any difference to me who I sell it to,” he added.

Asked if he is sure the other developer will match the offer from Adams, Sonnleitner responded: “Well, he calls all the time. He is gung-ho.”

Sonnleitner declined to name the developer.

Sonnleitner’s broker, Michael Ayer, said another developer wanted to buy the property about the time that Adams first put it under contract more than a year ago.

“We do not have an offer on the table, but I have someone who would put in an offer,” said Ayer, owner of Eco Luxe Real Estate.

He said they initially chose Adams Development over the other developer, “because Nathan Adams has a great reputation and he knows what he is doing.”

Ayer said the property almost certainly is worth more to a developer who has a clear site to build on.

But he isn’t sure how much less it would sell for if the home has a historic designation and can’t be taken down. Also, the gap may have closed because housing prices have appreciated in the area during the past year, he said.

Historic home has value. How much is a question.

“There is value in the home,” Ayer said. “It is an old, decrepit home. But there are people who restore those type of homes.”

Sonnleitner has an estimate that it would cost more than $400,000 to restore the home.

Adams thinks Sonnleitner will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars less for the property if the home receives a historic designation.

However, if the home receivers a historic designation, he hopes Sonnleitner can sell it for as much or more than he is offering.

“If I lose and Jim wins, I will be OK with that: if I lose and Jim loses, I will not be OK with it,” Adams said.

Adams said he thinks the Landmark Commission will recommend historic designation and then it will go to City Council for approval.

“I think based on the factual, historic merits, it shouldn’t be approved,” Adams said.

However, he said the staff at Landmark already has recommended approval, “even before we have submitted anything to them in writing. I find that distressing.”

Historic designation could backfire

Adams said if council approves the historic designation, preservationists may be disappointed with the outcome.

“To me, this is really ugly,” Adams said, pointing to photo of a modern home that was slammed next to a historic home.

“Putting old and new homes together is a terrible idea,” Adams said.

Nathan Adams is not a fan of the meshing of this old home with a new one. He fears something similar could occur in Jefferson Park if a home is given a historic designation.

Nathan Adams is not a fan of the meshing of this old home with a new one. He fears something similar could occur in Jefferson Park if a home he wants to buy is given a historic designation.

However, it may be necessary to slam the existing home next to new homes to make the numbers work, he said.

There also will be infrastructure hurdles, because if the home can’t be razed, there won’t be much frontage to install things such as water taps, he said.

The issue also goes far beyond this home, as he said he thinks if council approves this hostile historic designation, it  will become increasingly common for citizens in Denver to seek more  historic designations against the wishes of the owner.

“This is a huge property rights issue,” Adams said.

“I’m shocked there hasn’t been a big public outcry over that. But no one seems to care.”

Interested in buying a home in Jefferson Park? Please visit COhomefinder.com.

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com. DenverRealEstateWatch.com is sponsored by 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for GlobeSt.com, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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