Littleton council to rule on Melting Pot pergola proposal

Owners say outdoor seating necessary to turn a profit; opponents say structures would destroy vital view

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Downtown Littleton's Melting Pot fondue restaurant needs to build permanent outdoor seating to stay afloat, its owners say, but a growing chorus of critics say those plans would ruin the view of a city landmark.

Owners Kyle and Amy Reed's plans to build a pair of pergolas in front of the high-end eatery, housed in the city's historic 1917 Carnegie library, would require the city to alter a longstanding law requiring an uninterrupted view of the building that bookends the west end of Main Street.

“My hope would be that people would give us a fair shake,” Amy Reed said. “Give us an opportunity to present what we're hoping to do, and make a decision based on facts rather than emotion.”

City council will have final say on whether to roll back the law after a hearing scheduled for May 7. But the restaurant owners' plans have already met with disapproval from city staff and the city's Historical Preservation Board, and prompted a letter-writing campaign by Historic Littleton Inc., which says the pergolas would mar the view of a beloved architectural gem.

“We have a legal right to continue seeing this view,” reads a letter from Historic Littleton Inc., a nonprofit that seeks to preserve historic local architecture.

Colorado Community Media's owners, Jerry Healey and Ann Macari Healey, are members of Historic Littleton Inc. The Healeys did not participate in the writing of or distribution of any letters.

CCM arts and entertainment reporter Sonya Ellingboe is on Historic Littleton Inc.'s board of directors. She was among the signers of a letter to the editor published in the Independent opposing the pergola plan.

The building was designed by architect Jules Jacques Benedict, who also designed Town Hall Arts Center, according to city documents, and served as the city library until 1965. It was designated as a city historic landmark in 1973.

The view of the building from Main Street is governed by a 1983 conservation easement, which grants the city “full and free right to the uninterrupted visual enjoyment” of the façade. The Melting Pot moved into the building in 1996.

Making a choice

The Reeds say their proposed pergolas would only minimally change the appearance of the building, and say the restaurant's outdoor seating is increasingly vital to making ends meet in an era of climbing minimum wages and health care costs.

For the last several years, the Reeds have augmented the restaurant's indoor seating with patio tables out front, utilizing a pair of enclosed red canopy tents to keep diners warm in the winter, when they say their business is at its peak.

Though neither city staff nor the Reeds are sure exactly when the tents first went up, city planner Mike Sutherland ordered the Reeds to remove them last November, following what he called years of concern and citizen complaints that the tents violated the conservation easement.

Sutherland's letter laid out the Reeds' options: Take down the tents or apply for an amendment to the easement.

The Reeds chose the latter course, seeking an amendment that would allow them to build two pergolas on either side of the building's front entrance.

The pergolas would be 10 to 12 feet tall, according to a letter submitted by the Reeds to the city, and would have retractable fabric walls. The Reeds would consider printing pictures of the obscured part of the building's façade on the fabric to give the illusion of a full view, the Reeds told the Historic Preservation Board in an April 15 hearing.

Money matters

The Reeds said their outdoor seating now accounts for 30 percent of their revenue, and said without it they're unlikely to be able to keep turning a profit in the building.

No other spot on the property will work for outdoor seating, the Reeds told the board. The parking lot on the north is built over an old landfill with shifting ground that emits methane; the west side of the property would require permission from the Colorado Department of Transportation, whose lease terms are unpalatable; and the south side experiences noise and dirt from nearby traffic.

“We don't like the red tents either,” Kyle Reed said at the April 15 hearing. “We're looking at this from a business perspective… I know the (impression) is we're just printing money. But it's a difficult business to run. We picked it, we chose it, this is our burden. But we want to stay here.”

The Reeds said they have already cut operating costs as much as they can, and are concerned they'll lose customers if they raise prices. Amy Reed said while the old building is challenging to maintain, part of the restaurant's draw is its charming location in downtown Littleton.

Quite the pickle

Historic Preservation Board members called the situation an unfortunate dilemma.

“The Melting Pot is a great restaurant,” said board member Pam Grove. “But our purpose is to somehow maintain Historic Downtown Littleton for all property owners, and if we start changing the facades of our iconic buildings, that impacts every business… the intent (of the law) is very clear: `Own this building, take care of this building, we're glad to have you as a tenant, but we as a city want to have the enjoyment of the façade.' ”

Members of Historic Littleton Inc. told the board that the significance of the old library building should not be taken for granted.

“To say this is an icon is not exaggerating,” said Historic Littleton Inc. member Rebecca Kast. “This has been our view down Main Street for over a hundred years… It's one of our most historic structures, and its integrity should not be diminished.”

The Historic Preservation Board unanimously rejected the amendment, though their decision is non-binding and serves as a recommendation to city council.

Sutherland, the city planner, said while he believes the easement should stand and the view of the building should be preserved, he hopes the Melting Pot can stick it out.

“If this does not pan out, we would definitely work with the applicant to keep them in Littleton,” Sutherland said. “They're a valued corporate citizen, and we want them to stay.”

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