Historic overlay consultant given notice

       The future of the Westside's historic overlay effort was up in the air this week, after a decision by the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN) to terminate the agreement with consulting architect Al Feinstein.
       He had been hired last September to write design guidelines for what would eventually become standards for façade reconstruction in a voluntary historic zone for the older Westside. But Colorado Springs Planning, which is paying for the work with the help of a State Historical Fund grant, decided - after failed efforts to resolve philosophical disagreements - that his work did not meet contract requirements, and OWN and the state agreed.
       Under the formal rules of the city, with which Feinstein signed the actual contract, he was notified by certified mail Feb. 29 that he has 10 days from receiving it to “cure” the first deliverable or face termination.
       It does not seem likely that will happen, based on interviews with Feinstein, Tim Scanlon of City Planning and members of the OWN board. In a phone interview from his home in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Feinstein put the odds at “slim and none.” He said he'd received the city letter March 4 and was in the process of writing a reply - though he did not know yet exactly what he'd say.
       The contract was to consist of four parts (technically called contract “deliverables”). Feinstein has accomplished all four, as was required at this stage. But the last three have not been officially reviewed because he could not gain acceptance - despite three writing attempts - on the first one.
       According to the contract, that deliverable was supposed to provide a detailed backdrop of how the Westside's architecture happened, including platting patterns, street/alley layout, building periods and significant historic features.
       Feinstein said that demanding such detail goes contrary to the concept described to him when he initially agreed to the project about a year ago. At that time, dealing with then-OWN board member Dave Hughes (who has since resigned), Feinstein was given to understand that his main task was to discern the historic value of each of the roughly 4,000 buildings within the overlay boundaries. The current requirements are “way outside the original purview,” he said.
       His attempts at the first deliverable did include some background information from authorized Westside histories, but did not give the depth that the contract called for, Scanlon said. At Feinstein's request, Elizabeth Blackwell of the State Historical Fund also reviewed his third version. But she agreed with Scanlon.
       One last attempt to resolve matters was a meeting at the state office in Denver Feb. 20, involving OWN, Scanlon and Blackwell, with Feinstein teleconferencing. But nothing came of it.
       In a previous interview, Hughes expressed a point of view similar to Feinstein's, saying he thought OWN and the city were getting too caught up in minor details at the expense of the “meat” of the guidelines, which was the buildings themselves. His resignation in January was at least partly tied in with his concern about that issue.
       It was Hughes who had recruited Feinstein and convinced the city to fund the guidelines and hire him last year.
       One Feinstein complaint is that OWN had accepted his first deliverable, as well as the second (regarding physically distinct subareas). He believes this is important, because under the contract OWN is the project manager.
       Asked about this point, OWN President Welling Clark said that OWN never claimed to be historical experts; the neighborhood group has simply been doing what it can to bring about the overlay to help retain the Westside's historic character. “Right up front, we said we didn't have the expertise,” Clark said. The Historic Overlay Guidelines Committee (consisting of OWN board members and appointed citizens) and the OWN board said OK to the first deliverable “because it looked like it met the criteria.”
       But the contract gives equal review and comment power to the city, which has a half-time historic preservation planner (Scanlon), and to the State Historical Fund, which has an official delegated to the Westside project (Blackwell). “Even though OWN is the project manager, we don't have the final say,” Clark explained.
       Geography (Feinstein has been working out of his home in Mexico) has been another OWN concern. Feinstein said, however, that his distance did not undermine his ability to work on the project. “What's the difference in looking at photographs or a building?” he asked. In addition, “I'm familiar with the area,” he said, referring to architectural work he did on Old Colorado City historic buildings in the mid-1970s.
       Feinstein had also worked with historical standards over a 15-year span in which he designed new or restored buildings in Cripple Creek. However, he said, this was the first time he had ever attempted to write guidelines himself.
       “I really do believe he found the project interesting, and he had an idea in his mind what that would be,” Scanlon said. “He has worked diligently to produce that product, but it isn't what the city and state paid for. It just was not a good fit.”
       Looking ahead, the design-guidelines effort still has $25,000 left from the $30,000 in city-state money that was set aside for consulting fees (Feinstein has been paid $5,000.) No definite course of action has been decided, although Scanlon said he is researching different options. These could range from finding a new architect/consultant to splitting out the work among different specialists to doing much of the work himself. In the latter regard, Scanlon reported favorable news, in that he has been told by his supervisor that the Westside guidelines effort is his main project for the year. However, any final strategy would have to be approved by the City Planning director, he pointed out.
       One concern is the schedule. The plan in September was to have draft guidelines ready in February, with a “final product” going out for public review in June. As it stands, “not much is usable” from any of the deliverables Feinstein submitted, Scanlon said.
       He still thinks it would be possible to meet the ultimate deadline for the state grant (March '09), but in any case he believes “the state is willing to be flexible on the schedule.”

Westside Pioneer article