The owner of Delizios Cafe finally emerged victorious in the historic battle of the patio awning.
Littleton’s historic-preservation board twice denied Bob’s Mickus’s application to erect a 496-square-foot patio cover on the restaurant, which is in the downtown historic district and therefore subject to design guidelines. Mickus appealed to city council, which reversed the board’s decision on Dec. 4.
“Overturning a board or commission’s decision is always difficult,” said Councilor Jerry Valdes, a long-time member of the planning commission. “… I don’t believe they intentionally abused their discretion, I just think their decision was flawed.”
City Attorney Kirsten Crawford explained the only reason to overturn the denial was if council found absolutely no “competent evidence” to support it in the copious minutes of HPB’s meetings, which would amount to abuse of discretion.
“I don’t want to call it abuse, but I guess that’s what we have to call it,” said Mayor Debbie Brinkman.
HPB chair Chuck Reid emphatically disagreed, and noted council appointed HPB members based on their expertise. He reminded them their duty was not to debate the design, but simply to determine whether the board made an arbitrary decision.
Most everyone agreed the current city code can lead to conflicts between personal-property rights and historic preservation.
“Maybe we need to change the code, but the board honored the code to the best of its ability, and I think we need to honor that,” said Councilor Peggy Cole. She and Councilor Bruce Stahlman voted to sustain the HPB’s decision.
The code says projects can’t adversely affect the architectural features of a building and must be visually compatible with neighboring structures. HPB felt that since the awning would block the view of the building when rolled down, it qualified as an adverse effect.
Some councilors said other sections could apply and produce a different outcome. Councilor Bruce Stahlman admitted to ex parte communication with board member Bill Hopping, but said the conversation related only to which section to consider and that it wouldn’t affect his decision.
HPB members clearly weren’t happy with the reversal, but Mickus was relieved.
“I’ve tried for two and a half years to reach a win/win, and the city has been very supportive,” he told council. “… I very much want it to look nice and make it something Littleton can be proud of.”
He pointed to The Melting Pot’s curtained outdoor seating and noted he wouldn’t need approval to do the same thing, since a curtain isn’t a “structure.”
In the end, property rights ruled.
“For the past year, Littleton City Council has been very involved in how to make our community a strong economy and a vital community,” said Councilor Jim Taylor. “… Having the ability to increase sales is important, because that fits the economic vitality that we’re looking for.”