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Old Town Historic Overlay District hopes to maintain Morrison’s pizzazz

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By Deborah Swearingen

It has been more than four decades since Jamee Chambers first began pushing for a way to protect Morrison’s historic buildings and quirky charm.

She finally has a means of doing so with the unanimous passing of the Old Town Historic Overlay District at Morrison’s March 20 board meeting.

The plan aims to protect the town’s historic resources by creating rules and regulations for future businesses in downtown Morrison. While current businesses are grandfathered in, the rules apply should they wish to make changes in the future.

“ … We’re in a rapidly changing environment here,” Chambers said. “We know our retail is under assault. … We have to try to attract people with the historic nature of the town. Our bread is buttered with this historic town. We need to keep it that way.”

Some of the key features to be retained include allowing and encouraging adaptive reuse of historic structures, encouraging use of similar materials such as siding and paint colors, allowing a variety of height and bulk to focus on pedestrian scale and more. The district, which includes commercial downtown Morrison, wouldn’t require uniformity or dictate architecture type in new construction. Nonetheless, it would require developers to consider their proposal’s compatibility in downtown Morrison and necessitate compliance with the district’s guidelines.

The Old Town Historic Overlay District requires an administrative review for facade alterations greater than 10 but no more than 45 percent of the total exterior of the building and for minor site improvements that affect less than 10 percent of the net area of land.

It defines facade as an exterior that can be seen from a public right-of-way or that has a public entrance. It also would require hearings for facade alterations that affect more than 45 percent of the facade or for major site improvements affecting greater than 10 percent of the land.

Working with town planner Carrie McCool and her company McCool Development Solutions, the Morrison Planning Commission created a project plan for the Old Town Historic Overlay District. With a target budget of approximately $10,000 — more than $30,000 less than its initial request — the Planning Commission spent months discussing the architectural character of Morrison, taking walking tours and hosting stakeholder meetings with community members and business owners.

“The intent here is to keep Morrison, Morrison, protect the uniqueness of Morrison, and focus on preserving and enhancing the downtown, keeping the character and blending new development,” said town planner Stephanie Stevens.

Although no business owners attended last week’s public hearing, there have been concerns within the business community about the restrictive nature of the regulations.

But planning staff and commission members instead say they worked hard to find a middle ground that would provide regulations for protecting the town’s historic resources while keeping procedural steps minimal for business owners.

In addition to spending nearly a year working on the project, the Planning Commission also took a peek at towns like Idaho Springs and Leadville, which have pages and pages of codes and regulations defining what is acceptable.

“We need to have the legislative authority to keep Morrison, Morrison,” said Paul Sutton, an alternate on the Planning Commission and candidate for the board of directors. “ … I think we worked really hard to keep this simple. It’s not an onerous document.”