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Historic zoning for Westgate Tower delayed amid concern over tax breaks

Friday, August 26, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission postponed a decision Tuesday on whether the Westgate Tower should be zoned historic due to concern about a tax break for condo owners.

Preservationists deem the tower at 1122 Colorado Street historic for its architecture and its association with historical figures.

The 26-story, 261-foot-tall building, built in 1966, is an “excellent example of New Formalism,” according to city staffers. It was designed by renowned architect Edward Durell Stone, whose work includes the Museum of Modern Art and the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. As the former location of the Headliners Club, the building hosted many noteworthy people, including President Lyndon B. Johnson. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.

Applicant Brian Evans, representing the condo owners within the building, seeks historic zoning in part to protect the building from redevelopment. 

“The Westgate is not immune from fears of redevelopment, and in our opinion, this location does not need to be another large glass rectangular building like so many properties have become,” Evans said. 

The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously in July to recommend historic zoning. Though the building originally applied for historic zoning in 2012, the application was withdrawn amid public opposition.

Evans also hopes a property tax break associated with the historic zoning will allow continued maintenance of the building in a historically sensitive way.

“We have not allowed changes to the aesthetics or structure even when substantially more costly,” he said. The aging building has needed around $2 million in repairs over the past two years, according to Evans. 

As repairs become more expensive over time, Evans said faithful preservation isn’t guaranteed without the tax break, which amounts to $510,546 for all units combined. The tax break would allow the HOA to charge owners higher fees toward maintenance. 

While commissioners mostly agreed that the tower is historic, some were concerned about the impact of the tax break on the city’s budget. 

“We have a limited number of tax dollars that we can sort of forgive, and we need to think, is this our best use of those tax dollars that we can forgive?” Commissioner Jeffrey Thompson said. 

“We have a school district that is struggling to pay living wages to their teachers and employees,” Commissioner Awais Azhar said. “This certainly has an impact.”

Commissioner Grayson Cox argued that tax breaks aren’t within the commission’s purview and that the case should be judged on its merits. “This is probably one of the most historic buildings that have come up in front of us for a while,” Cox said, adding that he has no problem with the tax break if it means the building is well kept. 

Cox motioned to approve historic zoning, but Commissioner Robert Schneider instead proposed postponing the case to explore zoning only the exterior and lobby historic, thereby avoiding tax breaks for condo owners.

The commission voted 9-1-2 to postpone the case to Sept. 26, with Commissioner Claire Hempel against and commissioners Cox and Jennifer Mushtaler abstaining.

In the meantime, staffers plan to discuss the legality of Schneider’s plan with the Law Department. But even if it passes legal muster, property owners seem unlikely to agree to forgo a tax break. Council will make the final decision in the coming months.

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