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Publish Date: 3/4/2005

Preservation commission blocks building demolition

LONGMONT — For only the second time since 1971, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission has recommended preventing the demolition of a building over the owner’s wishes.

The Daily Times-Call has applied for a permit to demolish the “Green House,” built in 1900, at 320 Terry St. as part of an expansion for the newspaper at 350 Terry St. On Thursday night, the preservation commission voted unanimously to block the paper’s request and refer the question to the Longmont City Council.

“I came to this town ... loved the old town, put down roots here,” said Tessa Anderson, who lives at 512 Bross St. and has a law office at 627 Kimbark St. “I love old town Longmont. Anything that would destroy a piece of property that is part of our heritage should not be allowed.”

The commission late last year recommended historic protection for the Ahlberg Funeral Chapel building at 326 Terry St. In that case the council rejected the recommendation and granted a demolition permit. A similar decision is expected in the case of the Green House.

The Times-Call and the Ahlberg family are trying to complete a land exchange to allow both businesses to expand. The Ahlbergs want better parking and a more modern chapel. Times-Call officials say they also need more space, but have not yet offered specific plans.

But the demolition proposals have drawn anger and frustration from area residents, who say a larger industrial/office building and a funeral chapel and crematory are inappropriate for a residential area. Both businesses plan to expand in an area zoned as the city’s “central business district.”

The city’s historic preservation law was written in 1971, and the commission’s decisions to landmark the Ahlberg chapel and the Green House were the first and second times it had been invoked over a property owner’s objections.

“To continue to do our jobs as well as possible, the Times-Call needs extra space,” said editor and president Dean Lehman, who said the newspaper is the city’s oldest continuously operated business. “The property exchange will allow both companies to remain in the traditional downtown.”

Area residents, however, say they are concerned about the changes to their historic neighborhood, and say the city is losing precious buildings piece by piece.

After the commission meeting, most of the same audience members attended a 7 p.m. forum on the Ahlberg family’s plans for a new 160-person chapel and crematorium at the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Terry Streets.

About 60 people attended that meeting, and many of the questions focused on emissions from the crematory’s smokestack. The meeting brought both tears and laughter, and was attended by Mayor Julia Pirnack, several city council members and city manager Gordon Pedrow.

“Can you give me a 100 percent guarantee that there won’t be poison that’s coming out of that smokestack and into my family?” asked Matt Brandt of 522 Pratt St.

Randy Ahlberg told him that emissions from crematories are regulated by the state Department of Public Health and Environment and Boulder County, and that his facility is inspected annually.

“We have tried to think through the consequences for the neighborhood,” Ahlberg said. “We designed a facility that we believe is a positive benefit to the neighborhood.”

Under the Times-Call/Ahlberg plan, two homes north of what is now a fenced-off dirt lot will be moved to make room for the new chapel and a parking lot for about 50 cars. The Times-Call would then demolish the current Ahlberg chapel and the Green House and expand south.

Joanne Austin, who will be the new chapel’s closest neighbor to the north said its arrival will mean she won’t be able to hold outdoor parties or garden over fears of the crematorium smokestack.

“My view will be of bodies being brought into a funeral home,” she said. She later sobbed: “I am being forced to be a neighbor to a mortuary, which changes my lifestyle completely. My entire life is being changed by this, and I am in a grieving process for that.”

The city council will likely make the ultimate decisions on the Green House demolition, the Ahlberg proposal and the Times-Call expansion, which has not yet been formally filed.

After the Ahlberg meeting, Brien Rieck of 410 Terry St. said he was happy to learn more about the specific proposals.

Still, he said, “I’m not thrilled about the project. I hate to see houses in our neighborhood being removed, especially for parking.”

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com.

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