Nonprofit seeks to save historic Littleton barn from demolition

But even with historical designation site's future is uncertain

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As developers eye demolition of a 104-year-old barn just south of Santa Fe Drive and Mineral Avenue, a Littleton-based nonprofit has filed an application with the city to protect it. 

Gail Keeley, president of Historic Littleton Inc, which is "dedicated to preserving the historical and architectural heritage of the greater Littleton area," said the barn offers a connection to the city's agricultural roots and needs saving. 

The site was determined eligible by the Colorado Department of Transportation for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places during a 2004 survey, though no steps were ever taken to obtain historic designation, Keeley said. 

“What do we have left in Littleton that says we were an agricultural community? We don’t have too much else,” Keeley said. 

Constructed in 1918, the barn also features unique architecture, according to Keeley, with a "bank barn" design that provides ground access to both the upper and lower levels of the barn. 

But its conditions are poor according to Toll Brothers, the nation's fifth-largest home builder, which is forging ahead with plans to redevelop the site and its surrounding vacant land with hundreds of housing units and more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space. 

Among the findings of an independent reviewer hired by Toll Brothers, which were presented to the city's Historical Preservation Board during a study session April 21, were that the barn's roof is incapable of supporting snow and that the site is "neither safe for occupation nor moving to a new location." 

The developer's remedy is to demolish the barn and, possibly using some of its original materials, build a reconstruction elsewhere on the property that would be used as an amenity. 

But Keeley said reconstruction would lose the barn's historical significance. The application currently under review by city staff, filed April 26, claims the barn meets criteria for historical designation as it "exemplifies specific elements of an architectural style or period" and shows "cultural, political, economic or social heritage of the community." 

“I would really hope that the city would make a strong effort on preserving that structure," Keeley said. 

The application will soon be reviewed by the city's Historical Preservation Board according to Mike Sutherland, deputy director for community development, who said they will have between 30 and 60 days to make a recommendation to city council. 

Council members will ultimately have to vote to approve a historical designation but, even with one, the barn's future could still be uncertain. 

The designation would still allow for relocation, according to Andrea Mimnaugh, senior planner for community development, and even demolition if the barn suffers weather-related damage. Modifications or extensions to the barn would have to be approved by the city under a historical designation but could still move forward, Mimnaugh said. 

"While the barn may be in poor condition, it is still standing, and so with the right approach and a lot of work, it could be preserved," Mimnaugh said. 

While preservation could come with a heavy price tag, grants could help cover the cost, according to Keeley, who recommended the city secure a historical assessment grant through History Colorado, a state-run historical society.

The assessment grant, which can award up to $15,000 to applicants, would be a first step in understanding the needs of a historical site and how much preservation efforts could cost. 

According to Sara Doll, outreach specialist for History Colorado, applicants can also apply for much larger grants for projects, with some awarding hundreds of thousands over several years. 

“A lot of developers can break even, or it’s not a whole lot more out of their pocket," Doll said. “If they’re in between thinking ‘should we save it, should we not’ I think an (assessment grant) is worth it.”

But that decision is ultimately up to the barn's owner, Wendy Cogdal, who is currently in the process of selling the land to Toll Brothers. Cogdal said she did not want to comment for this story. 

Without Cogdal's support, Historic Littleton Inc is left with what the city calls a "non-consensual application," according to Sutherland. While those types of applications are rarer for the city to approve, it is not unheard of, Sutherland said, noting that the approval of a downtown historic designation was non-consensual. 

But he also acknowledged the tensions that are at play. 

“Littleton has a rich history, and there is a balance between community interest versus the property owner's rights," Sutherland said.

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