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Landmark application for Boulder property advanced against owners wishes

Posted at 5:02 PM, Aug 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-16 20:42:58-04

BOULDER, Colo. — The same day that an application to landmark a property against an owner's wishes in Denver was pulled, a different application to do something similar in Boulder was voted forward.

The former Shambhala property known as “Marpa House” on University Hill in Boulder is now one step closer to becoming a landmark, after a 4-0 vote of the Boulder Landmark Board. However, both former and current owners of the property are not in favor of that designation.

The application was submitted by Historic Boulder, the main preservation group in the city. They claim the building has historical significance in both its architecture and social history, serving as a fraternity house and religious cultural home for members of the Shambhala community for decades. Nearly 20 community members spoke at the Landmark Board’s meeting in favor of preservation of the property as well.

The building was constructed in 1923, housed the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, followed by the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, and then members of the Shambhala community. Historic Boulder listed prominent figures that have visited the Marpa House, including the Dalai Lama.

The building was sold from the Shambhala organization to a private company earlier in August. The landmark application was filed before that sale was complete. The vote happened Thursday night.

“The Shambhala organization does not support this unsolicited effort to landmark the property,” a Shambhala leader wrote in a letter to the board as a part of the application, going on to say “…we have never considered Marpa House a historic building.”

The Shambhala organization does have a checkered history in Boulder, including accusations of sexual assault against two people associated with the group in the last six months.

The current ownership group is called 891 12th Street LLC. A spokesperson tells Denver7 the group had early plans to refurbish and restore the current building for continued use as housing, and had no plans to demolish or scrape the building (city permitting likely wouldn’t allow it anyway).

In a statement to Denver7, the spokesperson wrote:

Having closed on the purchase only 7 days ago, it is still completely premature to understand any potential impact the Board’s decision to initiate a Landmark review process might have. The unfortunate reality is the owners’ interests and the neighbor interests were likely far more aligned than anyone apparently contemplated. The delays this process inevitably will inflict on the project will only slow improvements and may force an interim use that is not likely the preferred use of either the neighbors or the owner. What this won’t change is the end of an era for the former Marpa house.

Denver7 also spoke to Boulder Landmark Board member John Decker, who said is was very rare to initiate this type of landmark process over objections of an owner. He went on to say that the property does meet the basic criteria for becoming a landmark, calling it a strong candidate.

The next steps in the process include a deep dive by city staff members, another vote of the Landmark Board, and a full review by the Boulder City Council.