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Brickelltown reconstruction may help revitalize downtown

ALEX FREEMON, Sierra Sun

Brickelltown rises again. Truckee’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission (HPAC) approved a design to renovate one lot in the Brickelltown section of Donner Pass Road for a mixed-use shop and office development that many hope will lead to the revitalization of the area.

“Everybody is in agreement that this is a good thing,” said assistant town planner Gavin Ball. “We hope that this will promote the type of development that we would like to see in the downtown core,” he said.

“Brickelltown is pivotal in terms of opportunity for improvement,” he said, adding that the project could set a precedent for further mixed-use commercial development with a historic emphasis that the Downtown Specific Plan requires for that area.

The plan for 10250 Donner Pass Road, otherwise known as the Hunt property for its owner Bob Hunt, proposes reconstructing a dilapidated house by adding a new section at the rear and two additional buildings behind and possibly on a neighboring lot to accommodate more retail and office space.

The rear addition will contribute 2,100-square-feet to the property, and the detached, two-story buildings proposed nearby will total 1,200- and 1,500-square-feet and be divided in lower retail and upper office space. One building will be located directly behind the main house’s proposed extension on the hillside.

The other building may be on the neighboring Tapken property to the East, though this portion of the plan is still under negotiation.

The project would amount to a small shopping area with seven stores, parking for ten cars and a sidewalk improvements, but Ball explained that “there would be no typical store display windows which would conflict with historical sense of Brickelltown.”

He also said that Hunt has not yet determined the proportion of retail to office space and that the store area could be easily transformed into offices.

“Everybody seemed to be pleased with the project as shown which was really great because that’s hard to do,” said Bob Hunt, owner of residential builder Hunt Mountain Homes. “It sounds like they’re trying to use this as a format for what they want to do in that area,” he added.

“Hunt is looking to buy some property downtown to use as investment but wants to maintain historical integrity,” said Ball. “We’re thankful that he took this track, which everyone will benefit from,” he said.

According to Ball, Hunt originally filed a Certificate of Economic Hardship in which he stated that the cost of restoring the property would not be compensated by potential revenue. After talking with the planning officials and residents who make up HPAC, Hunt eventually agreed to change his plan and invest in a historically accurate reconstruction.

“We started out filing for economic hardship because we didn’t know any other way,” said Hunt. “As we kept talking, so many people didn’t want the demolition that even though it costs me more money, it seemed like a win-win situation for everyone at the bottom line,” he said.

Ball hopes that the new complex will set a precedent for similar improvements to the Brickelltown area and ultimately to Truckee’s eligibility to qualify to be a national registered district, which the town will apply for next year.

He explained that while Brickelltown is “recognized as contributing to the local district,” Truckee hopes to gain tax credits, low interest loans and grants among other benefits of being nationally registered.

Ball also said that Truckee’s chances of being approved for the recognition are “extremely high,” but added that it depended on the quality of the nomination. He said it is important that the town firmly delineate the boundaries of the historical district.

“Brickelltown is clearly going to be involved in that,” he said.

Though the house was built in 1885, Ball said that it is not associated with any particular historical event.

“The house has features and elements that continue to convey the time and place with which its history is associated,” said Ball. He added that “its workmanship and feeling have been diminished because of subsequent modifications to the structure.”

“Let’s not sugarcoat this thing,” said Ball. “It’s coming down and will be rebuilt in its historically accurate state. Some might call that demolition, we call it rehabilitation.”

Originally a dormitory neighborhood for laborers arriving in Truckee, Ball explained that the small houses in the area deteriorated because they were mostly rental properties and that owners had no reason to invest in the structures. The Downtown Specific Plan changed the area’s zoning to mixed-use and provided owners such as Hunt some economic incentive.

Ball and Hunt said that they had not heard of any objection to the project. Sharon Arnold, vice president of the Truckee-Donner Historical Society and a member of HPAC, offered her personal opinion that “this house will be rebuilt in replica and is acceptable for restoration,” and emphasized that the reconstruction will duplicate the old windows, doors and milling on the lumber. According to Ball, Arnold seconded the motion at HPAC’s hearing to recommend the project.

“To date I haven’t seen anybody turn such a dilapidated building into such a rehabilitation project,” said local architect Dennis E. Zirbel.

He said he has followed the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings as laid out by the U.S. Secretary of Interior and that no one voiced any objection at the two public hearings on the subject.

“The easiest projects to do are existing historical buildings,” said Zirbel. “You’re starting to see a lot more renovation with historic sites and structures and the (town) guidelines should be upgraded so that there are less gray areas.”

Zirbel said that he is proposing to use the development’s traffic mitigation fees toward a new sidewalk stretching from Joe Coffee to the Hunt project.

After HPAC’s unanimous recommendation to approve the project, Ball said Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook will have final approval.


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