Historical Society prefers Thompson House ownership
CARBONDALE, Colorado – A long-term lease allowing the Mount Sopris Historical Society to manage and maintain the historic Thompson House as a public museum is recommended by Carbondale town staff as the best way to preserve the structure.
However, the historical society would prefer to own the house and surrounding grounds outright. That could possibly increase the chances of obtaining grants, donations and other historic preservation funding, according to Greg Forbes, vice president of the Mount Sopris Historical Society (MSHS).
His comments came during a continued public hearing Tuesday night on the proposed Thompson Park annexation and development proposal.
“After a lot of discussion, we feel it would be in our best interests to have clean ownership of the property … including the structure and the grounds,” Forbes said.
“We haven’t seen anything to confirm whether it would be easier to obtain grants one way or the other,” he noted. “If it is to be a lease, there are some issues that would need to be worked out.”
The annexation and development plan by developer Frieda Wallison calls for 45 houses on the 10-acre site along State Highway 133 that is currently in unincorporated Garfield County. It would include dedication of the 123-year-old Holland-Thompson family farmhouse and about one acre of land as a public museum and park.
But a lingering question since the Carbondale Board of Trustees opened its public hearing on the proposal two years ago has been whether the town or the historical society would take ownership of the property once the deed is turned over.
Because the dedication is proposed as part of the open space requirement for the development, and for purposes of properly insuring the house, town staff believes a lease arrangement between the town government and the historical society would be best.
Should the non-profit historical society ever cease to exist, the town might not be able to protect the home from a third-party acquisition, town planner Janet Buck indicated in her staff report for the Tuesday meeting.
Staff is proposing a lease agreement, similar to what the town now has with the Third Street Center, that would give the historical society control of the building without losing the benefits of public ownership, she said.
Preservation of the house, which the historical society hopes to have listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the cornerstone of the annexation and development request by Wallison. The site involves three separate parcels that are in an island of unincorporated land between the River Valley Ranch and Keator Grove subdivisions.
The house, first built by homesteader Myron Thompson in the late 1800s and added onto over the years, was one of the first structures in the Carbondale area.
While the initial zoning and development plan for the site called for as many as 85 houses, after much negotiation Wallison and the town board settled on 45 earlier this year.
Trustees, on a 5-2 vote Tuesday, moved to have town staff prepare final documents for approval of the annexation and residential zoning plan.
One big sticking point remains between the town and Wallison, though, regarding the timing for a main access road and utilities to be installed.
Staff recommends that the work, estimated to cost close to $1 million, be done at the time a master subdivision plat is approved. Wallison has asked that a temporary road and some utilities be required at that time, and the rest at the time the first houses are built.
“We simply can’t afford to do that,” Wallison said of the up-front construction, calling staff’s recommendation a deal-breaker.
A majority of trustees seemed willing to go with the temporary road option, along with some other concessions to be discussed at a Nov. 8 continued public hearing when final approval will be considered.
But Mayor Stacey Bernot was prepared to call Wallison’s bluff, saying the town can’t compromise on what’s required in its codes.
“I’m comfortable with staff’s recommendation,” she said. “We can’t lose sight of the fact that this is a residential development … and any development, especially an annexation, is a privilege. I’m just trying to be upfront about that, and that there are some things we want for our community.”
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