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Consulting Parties Meeting, Masonic Lodge Proposed Demolition, November 6, 2013

by on November 7, 2013
For anyone who hasn’t been following the saga of the Masonic Lodge at Ralston Road and the Wadsworth bypass, it’s currently undergoing a review to see if it can be demolished, as is the wish of the developer working in that part of Arvada, or if it should instead be repurposed. The Lodge was built in 1947, but is located at the site of a planned five-story, 153-unit modern-design apartment building (PPOT) scheduled to be placed next to McIlvoy Park.Here’s the text of the original CBA invitation to participate. Some juggling was required to finalize the date of the actual meeting, as the first invitation allowed very little time for preparation. The originally proposed October meeting did not take place.

You are invited to a meeting to discuss the proposed demolition of the Arvada Masonic Lodge
DATE: Thursday, October 17, 2013
TIME: 6:00-8:00 pm
LOCATION: Olde School House
ADDRESS: 5660 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, CO 80002
RSVP: Invitees should respond by Tuesday, October 15, 2013, to Mary Therese Anstey

BACKGROUND:Park Place Old Town, LLC has proposed a redevelopment project to build multi-family housing at 7212 Ralston Road in Arvada, Colorado. This project meets the City of Arvada Land Development Code and complies with the City of Arvada Comprehensive Plan, the Arvada Transit Station Framework Plan, the Olde Town Station Urban Renewal Plan, and has been issued a Certificate of Compliance with the Olde Town Arvada Design Guidelines. The proposed project includes demolishing the Arvada Masonic Lodge, an historic property. Since this project includes mortgage insurance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), citizens are invited to provide comments and join the discussion before any action is taken.

PURPOSE:
The meeting will bring together Arvada stakeholders including citizens, the property developer, the project architect, community planners, and historic preservation specialists to discuss the proposed redevelopment project on the Masonic Lodge site. Representatives from HUD and the Colorado State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) both have been invited to this session. Dr. Mary Therese Anstey, an architectural historian with the Denver-based preservation planning firm Historitecture, LLC, will facilitate the meeting.

As a registered consulting party, you are invited (but not required) to make a five-minute PowerPoint presentation highlighting your interests in the Arvada Masonic Lodge. Your presentation should focus on possible alternatives to demolition. All PowerPoint presentations should be provided to Dr. Anstey by 8:00 AM on Wednesday, October 16, 2013, so the individual pieces from the various consulting parties can be incorporated into a single meeting program.

The meeting also will feature an opportunity for attendees to provide written comments to HUD and OAHP. Both agencies will receive minutes from this meeting as well.

This meeting represents part of the public participation process for Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). This regulation requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties.

Dr. Mary Therese Anstey
Historitecture, LLC

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *So, essentially, our purpose here was to “focus on possible alternatives to demolition.” Dr. Anstey added at the meeting’s beginning that the pertinent section of the law concerning the proposed demolition, is known as 24 CFR 58.1.

There were ten consulting parties, each allotted five minutes for a presentation, to be followed by discussion and dialogue.The facilitator, Dr. Anstey, is the Historitecture consultant hired by Mark Goldberg, the PPOT developer, to work with them during the Section 106 process.

Opening the presentation part of the meeting was Renee Nelson representing the Arvada Junior Chamber Foundation. Ms. Nelson, a lifelong Arvadan, offered various alternative uses for the Masonic Lodge, including offices, convenience lofts for small retail and other uses, a community, teen, or event center, possibly to include a Boys’ and Girls’ club facility; museums and facilities for revolving exhibits; photo or art galleries, small medical mixed use, a marketplace incubator for small business entrepreneurs and shops, class facilities, workshops, and private parties. She stated that small businesses are and have been great contributors to our community, and as good stewards of our historic assets we need to strive to find compatible contemporary uses for the building while at the same time protecting its historic value.

In addition, Ms. Nelson pointed out the importance of not letting our decisions be driven solely by marketplace profits. She pointed out information packets she had brought, showing samples of buildings which have been retrofitted or repurposed. Also, she said that it would be important to tie in as many considerations as possible with the Renaissance Plan for Olde Town.

Cindi Kreutzer spoke for the group Arvadans for Better Community Development. She said that after the Walmart plans were revealed many of us then became more aware of other plans for Arvada. She contended that our historic buildings contribute greatly to Arvada’s charm and character. Arvada has been a safe and attractive place for families to live, and it is possible to retain its historic qualities while at the same time encouraging vitality. It was chosen by Rand McNally as one of the “Most Beautiful Small Towns in America” in 2011.

Ms. Kreutzer pointed out that her home was built in 1947, the same year as the Masonic Lodge, and that the exterior of the Lodge is solid; that she and her husband would never demolish their home on the basis of its age, if it was structurally sound.

Some alternate uses proposed by Cindi were restaurants, a community center, reception hall, brew pub, antique mall, or Arvada history museum.

She wondered why the original plans for the PPOT development did not show demolition of the Masonic Lodge, and also pointed out that it appears there has been some interior demolition already, yet there does not seem to have been a permit taken out for asbestos removal, which requires a certified and licensed asbestos removal contractor.

Next was Susan Shirley, speaking on behalf of Citizens for a Better Arvada. She listed thirty US cities and towns which have repurposed their Masonic Lodges as museums, and went on to describe four of those museums, including the one currently in the works in Boulder. Although those buildings initially appeared to some people as white elephants, impossible to find a use for, once they were made into museums they turned out to be perfect for that use.

Ms. Shirley also said that, although the citizens of Arvada have been told by various members of city government that public involvement is vitally important, the reality often fails to reflect that ideal, and frequently the citizens feel they are left out of the loop, disregarded, or even met with hostility. She went on to say that CBA recommends that processes now be put in place to support maximum levels of community participation at all stages; that the consulting parties should have input into the types of meetings that are held and also the means by which outcomes are negotiated. Finally, since a decision of this magnitude should not be entered into lightly, today’s meeting should be only the initial introduction to further collaboration on the part of all the parties.

A representative of the group Colorado Preservation, Inc., said that the Lodge is a significant part of the city, and offered whatever assistance the group can give toward finding a resolution.

The next speaker was Tim Steinhaus, representing the Historic Olde Town Association. Mr. Steinhaus is the former executive director of AURA, who left AURA in 2011 after a 13-year tenure as director. He presided over such projects as the Water Tower Project, the redevelopment of the Ridge Home area, and the beginnings of the Candelas project.

Mr. Steinhaus said that the Masonic Lodge has been underutilized for decades. He went on to assert that PPOT will add to the vitality of Olde Town; that it will bring new residents to shop at Olde Town, and help with the continuing revitalization of Olde Town. The 150 new households at PPOT will spend thousands of dollars in the Olde Town Area.

Harriet Hall and Nancy Young, representing Save Arvada Now, spoke next. Ms. Young said that SAN favors development that enhances the Olde Town Historic District. SAN does not favor a 5-story cement wall which, Ms. Young said, will look like eight stories because of the way the bypass is sloped.

She went on to say that the community is angry about the project and the process that led to it; that Arvada has survived for 145 years, having kept many of its original structures because Arvadans have always been frugal and not torn down buildings simply because they were old. She related the story of the very building everyone was meeting in right then–that A.L. Davis had the option to demolish the old schoolhouse but chose, instead, to add his own facade to blend it in with the rest of the block, allowing the space to continue to be used.

Ms. Young questioned why, if the city can offer $3.4 million in incentives to a 153-unit apartment building, why cannot there be $3.4 million applied to the preservation and protection of the Masonic Lodge?
She then described the findings of the group which toured the Lodge recently. She said that it is solid as a rock, with no structural defects, settling, or cracks evident; that the ceilings are high enough that floors could possibly be added to make it a four-story building.

She next expressed the need for any alternative uses for the Lodge to include considerations for their impact on all three of the historic districts of Arvada, which include the Olde Town Historic District as well as Stocke-Walter and Reno Park Districts. There are few places in Colorado, she said, where original historic districts and the original surrounding residential districts are still intact. They are intact here because our progenitors did not destroy, they built.

Harriet Hall said that in 2011, a local non-profit approached the Lodge’s owner about purchasing the Lodge for offices for that non-profit. She said she knows that because she is the director of that non-profit and she was the person who attempted the purchase, working through a broker, but without success. She said that the owner of Arvada’s D-Note also attempted to purchase the Lodge for a restaurant, an entertainment venue, and a rooftop martini bar. That offer was rejected as well.

Ms. Hall then showed photos of a good example of the repurposing of a building: The Source, a huge indoor marketplace in Denver’s River North (RiNO), housed in a former iron foundry. It incorporates a variety of uses, such as restaurants, a bakery, coffee market, and brewery. As the Masonic building is smaller, it could house a smaller number of similar businesses.

Speaking next on behalf of the Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA) was Arvada Mayor Marc Williams. He briefly discussed the many hats he wears in service to the city. He expressed the opinion that the citizens of Arvada owe a debt of gratitude to AURA and the City Council, that they are civic minded and do consider citizen input; that there has been a great deal of success in revitalizing Arvada, and there is expected to be more success related to the Gold Line.

Mayor Williams said that the job of AURA is to take tired areas and rebuild them, and that maintaining the vibrancy of an area such as Olde Town is an ongoing process. He cited the Angelo Study, showing the need to attract younger people who can take the Gold Line to work in downtown Denver, and return to Arvada to live. He said that higher population density is mandatory to keep areas such as Arvada’s downtown, vibrant and alive; that Olde Town’s merchants are clamoring for more customers.

He went on to say that the Masonic building has been vacant for a long time, that it has to be demolished. It’s a white elephant and cannot be repurposed well, due to the secretive nature of its intended original design. We can’t, he said, just wish and make the wish come true; we have to recognize the reality that saving the Lodge would be cost prohibitive. He cited reasons such as asbestos, the placement of windows, and the environment. It is, he said, simply not practical to keep.

Mike Elms followed, representing The City of Arvada’s Community Development department. (An excerpt directly from their web page states: “The purpose of the Arvada Community Development Department is to sustain a planned and balanced community that provides affordable housing while preserving existing neighborhoods and the related housing stock, enhance the image of the community, and provides quality jobs for citizens, generates additional revenue and insures the economic health and financial stability for the City of Arvada.”)

Mr. Elms maintained that fourteen public meetings have been held with respect to the planned PPOT development; that 4,000 letters, invitations and notices were sent out.
He said that the Masonic Lodge is not located in the Olde Town Historic District, but in the Olde Town East district, formerly known as the Conservation District.
With respect to the large number of waivers which have been granted, Mr. Elms said that those were based on findings that the proposed use (meaning PPOT) will not conflict with the distinctive character of the downtown historic district.
Mr. Elms said that the economic hardship which would occur with any attempt to repurpose the Lodge would make it impossible for the developer to make a reasonable return on his investment.

The next speaker was Clark Walker, speaking on behalf of the Design Review Advisory Committee. Again, from their web page:     “The Design Review Advisory Committee consists of 5 members appointed by City Council. The Committee’s role is to make recommendations to the Director of Community Development regarding compliance with the Design Guidelines for Olde Town Arvada.

Current members of the Committee are:

Debbie Pearson, Olde Town Residents Representative
Dennis Culligan, Historical Society Representative
Roger Direnka, Olde Town Businesses Representative
Clark Walker, Arvada Urban Renewal Authority Representative”

(Note: Only these four members are currently serving.)

Mr. Walker began by saying it is regrettable that in what should be a public process, people often get involved only when it is too late for them to have an impact. There have been numerous plans, including the Arvada Comprehensive Plan, the Transit Framework Plan, and others, all providing opportunities for public input.

A large part of the extreme unsuitability of the Masonic Lodge for repurposing, said Mr. Walker, has to do with its location. Situated near Ralston Road and the Wadsworth Bypass (7 lanes and 10 lanes of traffic, respectively,) there are 70,000 cars passing that intersection daily. Mr. Walker asserted that the levels of traffic make the Lodge unsuitable for redevelopment, because of the challenges posed by poor access in and out of the building’s lot. Any reuse would need to address those physical constraints. No reuse would be feasible without public assistance or a well-capitalized owner. He said that the owner has tried since 2008 to find a tenant, without success. In addition, the property has been available to lease or buy, for years, with no takers. Finally, the highest office rents commanded by any building in the immediate area, are on the second floor of Grandview Plaza, which units rent for $14 per square foot. The developer of PPOT would need to realize $18 per square foot in order for an office use of the Lodge to be feasible. This supposes a purchase price of $1.2 million, $1 million for renovations, and an 8 percent return on investment. The building’s area is 9,779 square feet.

Mr. Jackson, an architect representing Park Place Olde Town, said that his firm is very dedicated to sustainable development, and that there always needs to be a balance between the three P’s of people, planet, and profit. Accordingly, an exhaustive study was undertaken to see whether the Lodge would be suitable as a site for residential units. Despite all sorts of redesign attempts, he said, there were too many problems involving the electrical, plumbing, roof, ingress/egress, asbestos, and security. It could not be economically repurposed as apartments. In addition, the exterior would require extensive modification to allow for windows, and that modification would have destroyed the integrity of the building. He said that many, many different designs for housing were studied and none worked.

Also, the level of density needed to be attained by the PPOT development, could not be reached if the Masonic building remained standing.

In short, said Mr. Jackson, the building is obsolete.

At that, the presentation portion of the meeting concluded, and the discussion portion began.

The following is a condensed summary of the comments voiced.

Geoff Bruce of Save Arvada Now said that there is no warning as to when public meetings will occur, and wondered if the city’s marketing department is so poor they are unable to let the citizens know what is happening. He went on to say that in Europe, the effort is toward preservation, but in Arvada we go for the bulldozer.

Mark Goldberg said that developers fill a unique role; that this community was, in fact, built by developers who also, no doubt, met with resistance. He said that when dealing with historic buildings there’s a fine line between what should be kept and what not. The first thing his group did was to look at repurposing the Masonic Lodge into office, retail, or multi-family. There are such massive challenges that those uses were excluded. With respect to housing a museum, the structure is sound but the roof leaks, the plumbing is bad, and the mechanical is bad. But, he said, “we were not cavalier about it.”

Harriet Hall cited her involvement in the placement of the Grandview bridge, which links the Stocke Walter and Olde Town Historic Districts. This linkage is a key element in the continuity of the districts, and PPOT sits directly between them, yet is contemporary in design.

Mr. Goldberg responded that it is OK for the PPOT building to be contemporary, because the surrounding buildings were also contemporary, when they were built.

Harriet reiterated that it’s very unusual to find three historic districts sited contiguously, as is the case in Arvada, and that a lack of continuity between them ruins that aspect of Arvada’s historic integrity.

Cindi Kreutzer asked for clarification of which plans were submitted, and when; that it was her impression that the three-story walkup with surface parking was the original proposal. She was told that the official submission to the City was the five-story, 153-unit building. Cindi then asked if it was true that the initial plans did not include demolition of the Masonic Lodge. The answer was given that some did, some did not.

Renee Nelson asked about the apparent partial demolition of the inside of the building. Clark Walker said that it was the current owner who started demolition but the city has since demanded he stop, because of concerns about asbestos.

Betty Araya questioned the statements that the residents have not been paying attention. She has lived nearby since 2006 and was never notified.

The response forthcoming from Mr. Walker was that notices were definitely given, in a 400-foot radius of the property. Rob Hoge of Citizens for a Better Arvada asserted that the 400-foot figure is a “floor, not a ceiling” and that sometimes, more is required.

Mike Elms insisted that the information has been on the city’s website, and in flyers. The question was asked if any information had been given to residents of the other two historic districts.

Rob Hoge wondered, if single family residences were not an appropriate use right next to the Wadsworth bypass and Ralston Road, how would Mr. Walker explain the large number of single family homes on the east side of that intersection? Mr. Walker said that it would be tough to build those now and that they really don’t belong there.

Mr. Hoge voiced concerns that the plans for development continually change without public input. In addition, he firmly stated his belief that the design of PPOT does not fit within the Olde Town ambiance.

Betty Araya said that 400 feet is definitely not within the acceptable range for notification. She also observed that there is potential for a conflict of interest when our Mayor, who is elected as the representative of the citizens, is also part of the Urban Renewal Authority.

Mayor Williams replied that his doing so is consistent with the best interests of Arvada.

Clark Walker said that more people need to attend AURA meetings and, if they did, they would get all the information they need.

Ascenzo DiGiacomo asked if the Lodge is on the historic survey for the historic district. The answer, from Joseph Saldibar of the Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, was that it is not on the registry but it is eligible to be. If the owner wrote a nomination, the building would be approved both on the grounds of its historic value and of the building’s architecture. Mr. Saldibar went on to say that eligible buildings must be treated in exactly the same way as those in the Historic District. While the Parks Service is the ultimate decider, a building cannot be listed if its current owner objects. In that case, the building exists in a sort of limbo, because at any time a future owner could reapply, assuming there had been no significant external changes to the building.

Dan Gardner, the current owner of the Masonic Lodge, said that he is very attached to Olde Town. He bought the Lodge in 2008 and has talked to many people about alternative uses. The building has been for sale, he said, for many years, and “no one came to say they wanted to buy it.” He emphatically stated that he had not had a single offer for the building.

Mayor Williams mentioned the benefits he believes Olde Town will realize from having more residents and access to the Gold Line. Rob Hoge asked when the people who already live here, will get equal consideration.

Nancy Young then described problems between the Masons and the City of Arvada. It seems that one of the main problems they encountered with the Lodge was that of the cost of utilities. They asked the city for a permit to install solar panels, but were denied.

They also asked the city for permission to build an apartment building on their property. That request was also denied. So, in effect, the city may have been culpable for the fact that the Masons were not able to use their own property in an economically sound way.

Rob Hoge asked again about why a museum would not be an acceptable alternative use. Clark Walker said it is because a museum would not generate a TIF. Mr. Hoge said that TIF’s are not the only way to generate money; that Goldberg could generate tax to finance a museum. Mr. Walker said that AURA doesn’t have the money for stand-alone redevelopment.

Mayor Williams offered his opinion that there is not sufficient demand for a museum; that the Cold War Museum did not do well.

Cindi Kreutzer asked about a community center. Mayor Williams again stated that the demand is not there, and that what funds there are for those types of uses are already going to such uses as parks and trails.

Betty Shreeve, a retired Contract Specialist for the National Park Service, warned of the need to look very closely into any ramifications of the Historic Register. She said destroying this building could get someone into trouble later.

Jayme Gaines asked why, if accessibility is an issue for the Lodge, why is it not an issue for a 153-unit residential building? Clark Walker offered that residential uses are different. Mr. Goldberg followed with his view that in order for retail to work you need good traffic, and that retail is very much an impulse sort of destination, as opposed to residential, in which access is far less critical a concern.

Harriet Hall alluded to the fact that SAN had come up with an initial list of twelve uses for the property, but wondered how it would be possible to have a meaningful dialogue in a five-minute period. She asked what the process will be from here on, to talk about alternatives.

Joseph Saldibar said that his position is that demolition is an adverse effect on a property which is eligible for official status as an historic landmark. He said that the section 106 process is designed to gather as many opinions as possible. Decisions are to be based on many factors. He said interested parties should present their proposals in writing, and the developer is required to make a good-faith consideration of those proposals.

David Rigirozzi of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) said that HUD wants to make sure that alternatives are considered; however, HUD does not have the power to supercede planning and zoning. He also said that alternatives should be submitted in writing to the developer and the city.

Ascenzo DiGiacomo said that there needs to be the political will to save the building, but that AURA and the city don’t seem to have that will in evidence. Private development almost never has the funds to preserve buildings, he said, because of the amount of funding required. So the city, along with historical groups and citizens’ groups, band together and decide as a group whether or not the building can be saved. The process needs to happen in a public forum; and the way things have proceeded up to now has placed the chicken before the egg. He asked if the schematic designs showing the development with and without the Masonic Lodge, have been presented to the public.

Clark Walker said that those pro formas had been included in some CORA requests.

At this point, Dr. Anstey concluded the meeting, saying that consulting parties should submit written proposals to her.

Want more information on this and other planned projects for Arvada? Save Arvada Now has a facebook page by the same name, as well as the website http://www.savearvadanow.info.

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