Revising history

Tate Zandstra | Boulder Weekly

“I want it to be torn down, it needs to be,” Amy Levine says of the Eldorado Corner Market, where she works. “The gas pumps don’t work right; sometimes they give too much, which cuts into profits, and the place is just dilapidated. It needs to be torn down.”

The market, scheduled for a building permit review on Sept. 8, has stood at the intersection of highways 93 and 170 for a half century and has raised a lot of controversy recently in tiny Eldorado Springs.

“Some people are like, ‘Oh, it’s been here my whole life,’ but is it a historic landmark?” Levine asks. “I have no idea.”

Navigating land use codes can be difficult anywhere, but in many unincorporated Boulder County towns, the task can be made more difficult for properties with historic significance. Many towns, like Eldorado Springs, have drafted their own plans to preserve the rustic spirit of their frontier-era settlements, but when does appreciation for the past interfere with economic growth, and to what end?

In the case of the Corner Market, says Debbie Schmitz, the store’s manager, preserving the iconic Flatirons view could make the business go under. Again.

“Everyone who has ever owned it has lost their shirt,” she says. “People drive right by the place. We need to be seen to keep from going under, but that’s the point, Boulder County doesn’t want us to be seen.”

The building the Corner Market occupies was built in 1960, Schmitz says, and has been everything from a porn shop to the convenience store it is now. Renovation isn’t an option because the building violates so many codes, she says.

It’s not so much a case of the county not wanting the store to be seen, but whether what people will see clashes with the historic aura of the town.

“We have a remarkable history of mining and it’s gratifying to see it preserved,” says County Commissioner Will Toor. “Each townsite has the opportunity to draft their own zoning regulations, but it has to fit in fundamentally with the countywide plan.”

The biggest issue for the Corner Market is an awning over the proposed new fuel pumps, which represent a large but necessary investment and need to be protected from direct sunlight.

“The Boulder County planning department first said we absolutely need an awning, then changed their mind and said we can’t have an awning here; it will ruin the view,” Schmitz says.

“The land use process is pretty complex, and it’s difficult to understand all the pieces,” says Hannah Hippely, the county planner in charge of the Corner Market review. The increase to more than 150 average daily trips and the change in principal use triggered this review process for the Market, she says. If the building permits are denied, it will likely not be because of the historic significance of the building itself.

“We do have a prerogative for historic preservation in the county for buildings 50 years or older,” she says. “But I think this is more an issue of preservation of rural character than historic character.”