Avon barn’s fate hangs in balance as deadline looms on election
AVON — The Hahnewald barn, and what to do with it, continues to elicit a strong response from the community as the June 1 deadline nears.
In a discussion on Tuesday, the Avon Town Council listened as letters were read into the record and testimony was received from locals. Comments from nearly two dozen people were heard.
The more than 100-year-old barn is set to be demolished in June of 2019 if it can’t be moved off the Eagle Water & Sanitation District’s property.
An architectural firm hired by the town has recommended the barn be moved to a temporary location, at an estimated cost of $390,000, before establishing a permanent restoration site for the barn in one of two spots: the former fire station or former town hall sites in the town core. The three options presented in those locations spanned from $5 million to $8 million.
Many of the comments heard on Tuesday took issue with the price tag on those ideas.
“I feel that the $8 million price tag that we’re talking about … included very fancy fixings of the inside,” said Nancy Nottingham. “That cost is not necessary.”
Nancy was one of five members of the Nottingham family who made public comments on Tuesday, not including Tamra Nottingham Underwood, who is a current member of the Avon Town Council.
Turn of the 20th century
The Nottingham family’s history in Avon predates the barn itself, and the Nottingham family owned the barn for several decades beginning in 1948. When the family sold their parcels to Benchmark-Avon Properties in 1972, the barn was included. It is now owned by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, which will give it to the town of Avon if it is put to public use.
Terry Nottingham, whose father, Allan, used the barn for ranching in the ‘50s and ‘60s, told his cousin, Tamara Nottingham Underwood — along with the rest of the Avon Town Council — that the initial $390,000 needed to move the barn would be a good spend for the town.
“I think it’d be a good thing to put a little money toward,” he said. “I don’t think you need to put the $7 million, you just need to save the structure, and then work on the design and then the funding, because time is limited.”
With so many members of the Nottingham family in support of the barn, the question was raised of whether council member Underwood should recuse herself from the looming barn decision.
“It rings conflict in my head,” Councilman Jake Wolf.
“I’m not aware of anyone in the Nottingham family … that has some potential financial gain to be realized by taking action on the Hahnewald barn,” Town Attorney Eric Heil said.
Underwood made it clear that she would not be silent on the barn.
“I have no financial interest in saving Hahnewald barn and never will,” she said. “I think any drive to seek to have my voice silenced is a violation of my First Amendment rights.”
Kim Nottingham, in a letter read to the council on Tuesday, said she believes there will be a return on any investment made toward saving the barn.
“This is a critical decision that cannot be made purely for financial reasons,” she added.
Financial reasoning, however, was the most-cited rationale among opponents of the barn plan.
“If there’s a way to preserve it without such a burden, where my children aren’t going to still be paying for it in 50 years, let’s do it,” Adrienne Perer, Aon resident, said.
“On barn rehabilitation projects throughout the country … most all of those were done with private or grant money, they were not done with taxpayer money,” Peter Warren, Avon resident, said.
Others mentioned they might be more open to the idea if not for Avon’s recent history with large spending projects.
“Please stop wasting our tax dollars,” wrote James Bahan in a letter read to the council on Tuesday, referencing other projects including the town’s performance pavilion and the “road diet” streetscape improvements currently underway on Beaver Creek Boulevard.
“I’m so saddened at the amount of money that our town has spent on silly things,” said Brad Christianson.
Other citizens, including the former chair of the Avon Historic Society, Jeanette Hix, and Kathy Heicher, president of the Eagle Valley Historical Society, spoke out in favor of preserving the barn, citing the town’s need to look back on its roots.
Put it to a vote?
Commenters also suggested a special election should determine whether or not Avon invests the initial $390,000 on moving the barn. If a special election were to occur before the deadline to move the barn, the council will have to take action to do so at their next meeting on Jan. 22.
Several commenters expressed dissatisfaction at the idea of a special election.
Supporters say if the $390,000 is the first step toward a much larger spend that will require taxpayer approval, perhaps voter input should be sought on the initial spend, as well.
Council member Chico Thuon, who supports a special election on the matter, said the 999 votes he received in the 2018 election was more than he expected.
“But those 999 people listened to me and my platform,” Thuon said.
In the town council’s October 2018 candidate forum, Thuon said the barn needs to be voted on by the residents of Avon.
“And I think the people may tell you exactly how they feel,” he said.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, the town’s planning and zoning commission, along with the historic preservation advisory board, will recommend to the council one of the alternatives presented by the architect. The council will then examine that suggestion at its Jan. 22 meeting and decide if it wants to uphold the recommendation.
Less expensive alternatives, including dismantling the structure and storing the wood for future historic reconstruction, salvage or reuse; moving to town-owned property on the east side of town in the Village at Avon; using the barn as a covered bridge over the Eagle River; or using the barn as a storage structure in the Town Hall parking lot, will also be examined, Heil told the council on Tuesday.
Regarding those alternatives, “I appreciate giving a larger spectrum of options, rather than what I consider … is the highest and best use,” Underwood said on Tuesday.
“But I understand that it’s controversial.”
Tire chains are your friend, especially if Interstate 70 is snowy and slick and you’re a trucker trying to make a deadline.