EDITOR’s NOTE: This story is being presented in two parts. This first part takes a look at the plan for the possible inclusion of parts of downtown Meeker on the National Register of Historic Places, a definition of what inclusion on the National Register means and the lack of forced restrictions on any property owner in the proposed area.
MEEKER I The Meeker Town Board gave its approval Feb. 3 to the Rio Blanco County Historical Society (RBCHS) to proceed with a long process that could end with part of downtown Meeker being listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Board members Scott Creasy, Bryce Ducey and John Strate, the only board members present for the meeting, told Ellene Meece, president of the RBCHS, that the only reluctance they had to approving the resolution was they wanted to make certain that approving the resolution would in no way tie any resident within the proposed historic district to any commitment on their part.
Meece said the resolution doesn’t tie anyone or their property to any future commitment, and she pointed out the paperwork from History Colorado, which will help with the paperwork and possibly provide a grant to pay for a consultant, states that any property owner within the proposed district can object to participating and that if a majority of the landowners within the proposed historic district object to the proposal, then there will be no historic district.
The parameters of the proposed district start at the intersection of Fourth and Main streets, travel north on both sides of Fourth Street to Park Street, turn left (west) to cover both sides of Park Street to Eighth Street, where it would cover both sides of Eighth Street, turning west through the alleyway to Seventh Street, then turn south from the alley, running down to Main Street, then turning east and running back to Fourth Street, covering both sides of Main.
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
A historic district is a group of buildings, properties or sites that have been designated by one of several entities on different levels as historically or architecturally significant. Buildings and sites within a historic district are normally divided into two categories, contributing and non-contributing.
On June 5, 2013, a team from the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for History Colorado visited Meeker to conduct survey work and make an assessment to determine if there might be historic district eligibility and to update individual eligibility recommendations.
Their report was positive and was presented as a starting place for Meeker to consider ways to expand historic preservation in the community and to consider applying for one of the most competitive application processes—to be named a designated historic district.
Meeker’s rich history and a considerable amount of existing historic structures lend themselves to at least applying for the coveted title of a national historic district.
Benefits of attaining a National Historic District designation include: Formal recognition of the history of the community. Meeker would be listed in a register nationally, which would give strong exposure to the town’s credibility as a historic place to visit and ultimately boost heritage tourism; Provide local government with substantial information for community planning and heritage tourism efforts; Give eligibility to apply for tax credits for restoration, rehabilitation or preservation; Give eligibility to obtain federal rehabilitation tax credits for income-producing properties that meet specific standards for work; Give eligibility to compete for grants from the State Historical Fund that can be used for acquisition and development, education and survey and planning projects. Grants vary in size to amounts in excess of $200,000; Gives accessibility to apply for CHF Revolving Loan Fund with low interest rates; and Ability to purchase and display a plaque to commemorate designation.
Other benefits include: Nationwide studies demonstrate that designated historic districts outpace undesignated neighborhoods in market value; Limited protection from federal agency actions that would affect the property; and Federal tax deductions available for charitable contributions of partial interests.
While Meeker has satisfactory qualifications to prepare a nomination, private property owners are given the opportunity to object. If the majority of property owners within a potential National Historic District object to the nomination, the district cannot be listed.
“Even though several preliminary steps have been taken to pursue this daunting task of applying for national historic district designation, such as a resolutions from Rio Blanco County Historical Society, Meeker Arts and Culture Council and the Town of Meeker, we are still in the beginning steps to making this a reality,” Meece said.
There are only 112 National Historic Districts in Colorado.
What are the restrictions, rules, regulations for historic property owners?
From the federal perspective, a property owner can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no federal monies attached to the specific property inside the district.
However, before this occurs, the property owner should contact the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), which is the state agency that oversees historic preservation efforts in the state. There may be state or local preservation laws that they should be aware of before they undertake a project with a historic property.
Can a property owner modify, remodel or renovate without restriction in a historic district?
Again, from the federal perspective, a property owner can do whatever they want with their property as long as there are no federal monies attached to the property.
Owners of private property listed in the National Register also have no obligation to open their properties to the public, to restore them, or even to maintain them, if they choose not to do so. Owners can do anything they wish with their property provided that no federal license, permit, or funding is involved.
“What those answers mean is that the historic district designation means nothing to a private property owner who wants to opt out of the program,” Meece said. “Opting in means that the property owners will have access to grants, low-interest loans and other benefits if they wish to improve their property, but that is not a required part of being within the historic district. If they do take federal funding for any of the improvement purposes, then they are bound by the rules of a federal historic district. The decision is totally up to the property owner.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Part 2 will look at the process, which can take well in excess of 18 months before any decisions are made; the grant and other funding available for improvements should the district become a reality; the listing of the two buildings in downtown Meeker that are already listed on the National Register; the two buildings in downtown Meeker already on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties; and the list of 22 properties listed as possibly eligible for inclusion on the state or national registers.