The monthslong battle over the fate of the former Pobre Pancho’s Mexican restaurant building on North College Avenue may be on the path toward a rare nonconsensual landmark designation in Fort Collins.
Fort Collins City Council struck down an owner-led appeal opposing the building’s historic landmark eligibility Tuesday night, voting 4-0 to uphold the Fort Collins Historic Preservation Commission’s July 20 determination that the building is eligible for landmark status due to its 53-year legacy as a Hispanic-owned business. Council members Shirley Peel, Kelly Ohlson and Emily Francis were not present Tuesday.
Council’s Tuesday decision and findings will be presented as a resolution and voted on by council at its Oct. 4 meeting, marking a major step in the tug of war over the building’s future.
How Pobre Pancho’s found itself in a historic preservation fight
The restaurant, which moved from its first home on Walnut Street to 1802 N. College Ave. in 1969, was run by Frank Perez and his family until 2020, when a terminal cancer diagnosis led Perez to sell the business and its building to longtime customer Asher Haun that August. Perez died later that year.
Haun — who owns Pobre Pancho’s under the name H&H Properties — shuttered the restaurant in March, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, increased food costs and its lack of profits. Shortly after, he confirmed plans to sell the 61-year-old building to Raising Cane’s, which wanted to raze it and a neighboring used car dealership and use the sites for a new North College Avenue drive-thru.
The chicken tender chain’s development plans kicked off a historic review of the car dealership and restaurant because both buildings were more than 50 years old, and city staff ultimately determined Pobre Pancho’s was eligible for landmark status given its longstanding association with the Hispanic business community in Fort Collins.
A Raising Cane’s spokesperson has since told the Coloradoan the chain is now looking for new sites to consider for its forthcoming second drive-thru in Fort Collins.
H&H Properties first appealed the property’s landmark eligibility determination to the Historic Preservation Commission, which upheld the determination at its July 20 meeting.
On Aug. 3, H&H Properties appealed the commission’s decision to City Council, alleging the commission failed to conduct a fair hearing by considering misleading and irrelevant information. H&H Properties’ attorney Jeff Cullers also argued that the commission did not properly apply city code in its decision, claiming that the Perez family is not a historic family and that the Pobre Pancho’s building is neither historically significant nor has enough integrity to be landmark eligible.
“Surviving the restaurant industry is hard, but that doesn’t make the Perez family historic figures,” Cullers argued, calling the Historic Preservation Commission’s July 20 decision “a real reach.”
“It (was) a humble family Mexican restaurant,” he added. “It was never more than that.”
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What’s next for Pobre Pancho’s?
While Mayor Jeni Ardnt and council member Tricia Canonico both voiced concerns about nonconsensual historic preservation efforts, all four members present Tuesday decided the Historic Preservation Commission held a fair hearing this summer, striking down H&H Properties’ final appeal attempt.
If confirmed through a resolution at the Oct. 4 council meeting, however, Tuesday’s council decision would not make Pobre Pancho’s a historic landmark.
Instead, it would mean Pobre Pancho’s will be subject to protections listed for historic resources in the city’s code. As part of that, a modification of standards would be necessary if H&H Properties wanted to demolish the building or make alterations that don’t fit preservation standards, according to Fort Collins’ Senior Historic Planner Jim Bertolini.
If confirmed by council next month, the decision would also keep the property’s eligibility to become a landmark in place, meaning three community members, a City Council member or the city’s Historic Preservation Commission itself can take steps to nominate the building for landmark status.
Frank Perez’s daughter Monica Bird told the Coloradoan she plans to take steps to nominate the property for landmark designation, claiming during Tuesday’s meeting that her father’s restaurant was not only a refuge for Hispanic diners in a largely white Fort Collins, but was also likely the city’s oldest minority-owned restaurant run by a single owner.
If designated, the property would be fully protected from exterior alterations, demolition and new construction that doesn’t fit under a set of national historic property standards. Its owners would also be eligible for state tax credits, a zero-interest loan program and grants for improvements.
Cullers said he was disappointed by Tuesday’s decision but declined to comment further. Haun also declined to comment after Tuesday’s meeting. On Wednesday, he declined to comment on whether he planned to oppose any landmark designation efforts of the property should that come to fruition.
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