One thumb’s up, one thumb’s down: An emotional afternoon

Toms Diner Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 7.54.24 PM

The Park Hill farmhouse’s fate and the same situation for the iconic Tom’s Diner on East Colfax created a sobering situation for everyone.

There were sorrow and concern from those seeking a reprieve from the probable demolition of the Park Hill farmhouse, but the case was lost. There were tears and sorrow and concern during the discussion about saving Tom’s Diner, especially from the owner of the diner, who wanted to sell the building and the land for about $4.8 million to a developer so he could retire. Is there still a road ahead for that diner? Its photo certainly is everywhere, as it should be.

Yes, there is money involved, but there also were deep attachments to both projects put in front of the commission.

First, the Park Hill farmhouse.

As noted by commission members – who earlier had approved the application for landmarking against the advice of their staff– both sides of the issue were thinking about the future of Park Hill.  One of the original applicants, Rae Hunn, was saddened to see so much black history being swept away in redevelopment and Denver’s massive changes in central neighborhoods.

The commission had been sued for approving the application at an earlier meeting. Hunn told the commission that she had been sued by the trustees for asking what was going to happen to the land around the farmhouse. The farmhouse was part of a dairy operation, and a rare example of dairy farms that once dotted Park Hill.

The home is owned by a trust established by Palecia Lewis and her late husband Lawrence; Ms. Lewis attended the meeting. Their relatives spoke to the commission. The farmhouse was built by the Quinn family more than 100 years ago, but eventually it sold and had tenants.  Still, when one of the trustees came to the table, she made it clear that the family loves Park Hill. And another trustee said he knew his grandfather would want the property to be developed to its fullest use.

It came down to this: The application for landmark designation was missing sections and just didn’t have enough information.

At one point, the trustees’ attorney, David Foster, said the application had to be withdrawn because 1 of the 3 original applicants who signed the document had  pulled her support, leaving only 2. The city attorney in attendance said only one person actually had to sign an application – the ordinance says applicant, not applicants.

The commissioners in attendance voted against approving the application, but the loss of black history also was mentioned during voting. Foster told a BusinessDen reporter that the lawsuit would probably be dismissed by the end of the month.

Then, the commission faced another decision: how to address Tom’s Diner.

The application was detailed, informed, and a really good read. Two of the five applicants spoke about why the diner should be saved. They said they had met with the diner’s owner, Tom Messina, and were trying to work with him to save the place. But when Messina came to the table, he said, “I’m flattered” about all of the praise for the diner and his open door approach for groups and meetings. Still, “It’s more about nostalgia than brick and mortar.” But, he added, “It will have a huge impact on my family.” In short: “It is my only asset.” He was choking up.

Others spoke about saving the diner, but Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, asked the commission to consider amending the lot so it only pertains to the building footprint as a possibility to work with the developer who is interested in the property.

The commissioners in attendance approved the application. But remember, before this can go to the full Denver City Council, the measure needs to go to the Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure committee. The chair now is Chris Herndon, and co-chair is newcomer Amanda Sandoval; other committee members this year include two other new council members, Candi CdeBaca and Jamie Torres.

We’ll see if the diner moves forward from the committee. And if that happens, we’ll see if the full City Council would approve an application from someone other than the owner.

What still runs through my head is the issue of two plans devised by the city: the draft of the East Central Area Plan and the Colfax Corridor Plan. But that’s a different story.

There are links below regarding the farmhouse (the piece in BusinessDen and city documents) and to the Tom’s Diner approval (a few of the stories on Tom’s Diner as well as links to these two plans).

The Park Hill farmhouse:

Then there is Tom’s Diner:

Commission recommends landmark status for Tom’s Diner; ‘I feel kicked in the gut,’ owner says

USE farm house IMG_2823





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