After a meeting this morning of the Denver City Council’s land use committee, Tom’s Diner now moves to the full city council.
After a presentation on the reason behind proposing designation of the diner as an historic landmark, the committee carefully discussed the ups and downs of this move to designate the diner.
After all, the diner’s owner, Tom Messina, after 20 years dealing with a 24-hour restaurant, is ready to sell it. He wants to retire. He has a buyer (for $4.8 million): Alberta Development, which wants to scrape the diner to erect an 8-story apartment building at East Colfax Avenue and Pearl Street.
There was no representative in attendance from the development firm.
Things had changed, when five Denver residents submitted a nomination for designation, which sailed through the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission a couple of weeks ago. That’s how solid the nomination was. There was a suggestion made at that commission meeting that the boundaries shrink to protect just the diner, leaving room on an adjoining parking lot for a new building. After all Bastien’s restaurant – also on East Colfax Avenue — might wind up being the last well-loved Googie-style building in Denver.
After the presentation by the Landmark Commission staffer, City Council representative Kendra Black began asking questions. She said that this move would be “taking” the owner’s property rights.
(Note to self: Hmm. The United States Supreme Court has found that historic designation is not a “taking.”)
Black also asked how the five applicants raised the money, and who did the work on the nomination. The applicant who spoke, Jessica Caouette, said they raised the money via a Go Fund Me page, and that the applicants had talked with Messina and a representative from Alberta Development to try to find a solution to save the diner and offer room to build.
Caouette noted that Messina “deserves some serious compensation,” since the diner had been so important. The nomination was aided by an existing document that had been prepared years ago for the National Register of Historic Places, but Messina had said he wasn’t interested in going forward.
Messina said that the diner was his only asset. There had been other offers, but “the timing is right for me.” (And undoubtedly the right time for a developer when the city is coming up with new plans for East Colfax Avenue and for east central Denver.)
Then the issue came up on who could OK shrinking the boundary to isolate the diner as the only element that would be designated. An assistant city attorney said only the full City Council could make that determination.
City Council representative Chris Hinds – who represents District 10, where the diner is located – is not on the committee, but sat in on part of the meeting. He asked if there could be an alternative process considered. Messina said that for emotional reasons, his family, a serious buyer – “I don’t want to lose what I have to ‘what if’s.’ ” Hinds responded, “We should discuss other options, not just a nuclear option.”
The committee voted to move to the full City Council. But there is a time running here: The proposed designation of the diner needs to be on a council agenda by the end of August, or all this discussion will end with the diner being just another building with the label of non-historic status. And we know what that means.
The only link I found on this committee meeting was in Westword today: