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For the week of Apr. 19 through Apr. 25, 2000

Colorado towns enforce strict design criteria

"You can’t just say, ‘This is ugly and I don’t like it.’ That’s a good way to get sued."

Kaye Simonson, Telluride’s historic preservation planner

Express Staff Writer

Western resort towns depend on their good looks to draw visitors and year-round residents. That’s a matter of great concern to Ketchum’s planners, but some towns have far more restrictive laws to maintain those looks than does Ketchum.

Examples of two of those communities are Telluride and Crested Butte in Colorado. Both were developed as mining towns in the 19th century and have extensive historic districts.

Both towns had help developing their guidelines from a Boulder, Colo., consulting firm called Winter and Co. According to the firm’s president, Nore Winter, his goal is to help those and similar places remain a "refuge from Generica."

As a result, both towns require every proposed new building to go through design review.

"You can’t just say, ‘This is ugly and I don’t like it,’" said Telluride’s historic preservation planner Kaye Simonson. "That’s a good way to get sued."

But, Simonson said, even the details of design can be governed if specific criteria are drawn up.

According to Simonson, Telluride’s design standards are based on five concepts:

  • Keep it simple.

  • Keep it in scale with surrounding buildings.

  • Respect historical resources.

  • Make all new design compatible with the existing context.

  • Encourage new interpretations of traditional building types.

Simonson said that when the town’s design guidelines were rewritten in 1997, planners took pictures of many of the historic buildings there and distilled their appearances into a list of architectural details.

"From there you develop the guidelines that are desirable," she said.

Simonson said planners can require that a house have a front porch, for example, or a more steeply pitched roof, or a certain shape chimney. They can demand that buildings be constructed of traditional materials.

And stucco?

"Forget it," she said.

Crested Butte’s building inspector, Scott Lefevre, said new buildings there are required to have simple forms, be built of wood and have vertical lines, steeply pitched roofs and double-hung windows.

Both Crested Butte and Telluride have National Historic Landmark Districts. However, planners there said that doesn’t grant them any more regulatory power.

In addition to their design criteria, both Telluride and Crested Butte have limits on residential building size.

In Telluride, it’s a flat maximum of 4,000 square feet. In Crested Butte, the allowed size varies by lot size, but through most of town it is a maximum of 2,800 square feet, Lefevre said. He said that in new subdivisions on the outskirts of town, the maximum is 3,750 square feet.

Lefevre admitted that Crested Butte’s thick code of building regulations "screens a lot of people away from building here.

"It’s really heated right now. There are a lot of people who would like to just maximize [their investment] and split."

However, he added, Crested Butte’s look is "a great selling asset as far as a tourist town is concerned."


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