Board denies Colver House demolition request

PHOENIX — After three hours of public testimony from residents, historic experts and former inhabitants of the historic structure, Planning Commission members Monday unanimously recommended denial of a request to demolish the 152-year-old Samuel Colver House.

A historic stage stop and the county's second-oldest structure, the property was placed for sale in recent weeks by its owner of 18 years, former Phoenix Mayor Jerry Greer, who has cited personal issues for his decision to sell.

Neighboring property owners received notification last week from city planners that the historic building could be demolished.

The property's potential purchaser, Ashland resident Ashley Jensen, told the commission that contractors had advised her that the old house would be cost-prohibitive to restore.

Jensen plans a commercial project to include tenants such as a health food vendor, an upscale dance club and bar or office space. Jensen told planning commissioners she had "a very big heart for old properties" but that bringing the building up to code would cost $300,000 to $400,000 while replacing it with a similar structure would cost closer to $175,000.

If demolished or relocated, Jensen said she could opt to build a commercial project worth $3 million or more.

Historic preservationist George Kramer, who spent time studying the Colver House during his college years, buried his face in his hands as Jensen discussed the commercial value of the property due to its location and potential jobs that would be brought to Phoenix.

"This is no run-of-the-mill historic structure," said a frustrated Kramer, adding that he'd restored structures that had been previously condemned.

"This house is habitable right now. It is inconceivable that it cannot be rehabilitated. Maybe it needs a foundation. So will a new building. Maybe it needs heating and cooling. So will a new building."

Kramer said he'd spoken with Jensen and suggested a contractor to properly assess the structure, which Jensen had not contacted.

Kramer spoke of incentives and tax breaks for preserving historic homes, which Jensen later called "miniscule."

"She's asking you to give her the option to tear it down before she's done her homework," said Kramer. "Make her do her homework!"

In addition to Kramer's testimony, which received a standing ovation, residents told stories of families who'd lived in the home, of driving past the house for decades and of its historic value.

Resident Jack Peebler, whose family owned the home for more than 40 years and ran a dinnerhouse until World War II, said news of possible demolition was both sad and shocking. Peebler said the house had significant "historical value for not only Jackson County and the city, but for the state of Oregon."

Included in a half-dozen letters opposing demolition of the property was one from Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office in which Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Roger Roper voiced opposition and offered to provide consultation.

Greer, who spent some $5,000 to have the home placed on the National Register of Historic Places shortly after purchasing the home in 1989, said, though forced to sell the home now, he was the first owner to make an effort toward preservation.

"I'm the last person in the world who wants that home to come down. That house is rock-solid and level. I didn't register it to see it come down," he said.

Greer suggested that, if city officials were concerned over the fate of the house, the city could opt to waive system development charges and building costs to encourage potential buyers.

Jan Wright of the Talent Historical Society said, "If the Colver House were standing in Ashland, I don't think we'd be discussing demolishing it. Unfortunately we live in a world where everything is about the bottom line."

During her rebuttal, Jensen acknowledged the historic importance of the structure and told commissioners, "I'm a fan of older houses, too."

She added, "The only way I would be willing to save the Colver House would be if the community wanted to put some money into it, or maybe the city."

"Then don't buy it," Kramer yelled from the back of the room. "She is blackmailing the city! She's not the right buyer for this house."

Planning Commission chairwoman Micki Summerhays urged commissioners to deny the demolition request. Summerhays invited Jensen to seek other property within the city for a commercial development

"We appreciate the applicant and we have a great respect for the owner, but this piece of property does not fall under the same purview as just any other piece of property," Summerhays said.

"This is community property. Demolition, for me, is not an option."

City Council members are set to review the demolition request Aug. 6. The regularly scheduled meeting will take place at the city's public works complex, 1000 B Street, Phoenix.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

Share This Story