Church prays for exemption from Basalt code |

Church prays for exemption from Basalt code

Members of Basalt’s Methodist congregation fear the town’s proposed new rules on historic buildings may leave their church in the lurch.

The town is crafting an ordinance designed to save its historic structures, especially those on Midland Avenue and Homestead Drive. The stately white Basalt Community United Methodist Church at 200 E. Homestead Dr. is within a proposed historic district. If the plan is adopted as proposed, it could complicate any future sale of the church and potentially drive the sales price down.

The proposed ordinance dictates what owners of the historically significant structures can and cannot do.

“The significance of that building on that hill is not of importance to us,” said church member and Basalt land-use planner Doug Pratte.

The real significance is what the members accomplish, he said. The congregation is a key player in charitable efforts in Basalt and throughout the valley.

The congregation is growing, and the church site isn’t able to handle a bigger structure. So leaders are looking for alternative sites within town limits. In order to buy land within town, Pratte said, the congregation must sell the existing building for top dollar.

On behalf of the church, he asked the Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night to remove it from the proposed historic district.

“Why? It seems to me, if I was a casual observer of Basalt, I’d say, `Cool church, historic structure,’ ” said planning commissioner Mark Elice. If 100 people were surveyed, at least 90 of them would point to the church as a critical building to preserve, he said.

The key to making a historic preservation effort successful, Elice said, is to craft rules that keep important buildings like the Methodist Church while providing flexibility for owners.

Part of the church is 104 years old, according to minister Marie Gasau. Other sections have been cobbled on over the years.

The town’s historic preservation ordinance targets buildings that are at least 75 years old. Town Councilwoman Anne Freedman is championing the preservation effort. She initially suggested including residences, but the town backed off when it became apparent that would raise substantial public opposition.

The town still hopes to avoid destruction of Victorians and other old homes through zoning incentives.

The proposed historic district engulfs all commercial buildings – except the church.

“We do not want to be lumped in with commercial buildings in town,” said Pratte. “Lump us in with the residential.”

Minister Gasau said the church leaders have the integrity to say they will work with the town on preservation of the structure even if it is removed from the historic district. She said members have a strong interest in seeing the building preserved.

But like Pratte, she said the ministry of the congregation comes first, and if that gets impeded by the building, the structure becomes secondary.

“We exist for mission like fire exists for burning,” Gasau stressed.

Planning commissioner Tiffany Gildred said that the town’s interest in seeing the church preserved and the congregation’s financial interests are equally legitimate. She favored keeping the church in the historic district but working with it on “whatever’s necessary to let that property keep its value.”

Officials brainstormed briefly on regulations that would allow creative new uses for the church while still preserving the building.

“I think there’s a common goal here, I really do,” said church member Brian Pettit. “We only need more time.”

Ask and thou shall receive. The planning commission didn’t take an advisory vote on the historic preservation ordinance, so the issue won’t advance yet to the Town Council. Acting on the staff’s advice, the planning commission concluded more time and public input is needed on the proposed rules.

The board also agreed that special work should be directed toward the Methodist Church.

The planning commission also advised that a moratorium on the demolition of commercial structures at least 75 years old should be extended. The existing six-month moratorium is scheduled to expire in March.

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