Communities must be protected in redevelopment

Councilmember Deborah Ortega
Posted 1/8/20

Redevelopment of more than 500 acres along the Interstate 25 corridor on the west side of town will shape the look and feel of Denver if each site builds to the maximum proposed density. The area …

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Communities must be protected in redevelopment

Posted

Redevelopment of more than 500 acres along the Interstate 25 corridor on the west side of town will shape the look and feel of Denver if each site builds to the maximum proposed density. The area stretches from Interstate 70 between Pecos Street (old Denver Post print facility) and Brighton Boulevard (Denver Coliseum) to the old Gates Rubber factory site at Broadway/Santa Fe Drive and Mississippi Avenue. A large residential development is expected at Evans Avenue and Santa Fe adjacent to a light rail stop and the Loretto Heights property near Federal Boulevard and Hampden Avenue has been rezoned for a new community.

These sites encompass huge parcels of land, including River Mile (aka Elich’s), the south parking lots of Mile High Stadium, the Denver Housing Authority Sun Valley public housing site, the Pepsi Center parking lots, and the Burnham Yards (vacated railroad land) west of Denver Water, to name a few. These areas have either been rezoned or are going through the rezoning process to increase density and allow for tall buildings. A wave of cranes is slated to rise when construction begins and these sites add millions of square feet of new development.

It is imperative Denver has the tools to identify and manage the impact of this growth on traffic, housing attainability for families struggling to afford Denver’s out-of-reach housing prices, opportunities for local small businesses, and the impact on our infrastructure — roads, drainage, sewer and water. We must also assure jobs and training opportunities for residents. Denver city leaders with neighborhood stakeholders must take a pause to review the cumulative impact of these projects on adjacent neighborhoods. It is irresponsible to continue to approve massive rezonings without a hard look at the cumulative impacts on our infrastructure and without plans in place to avoid displacement of residents. We cannot afford to lose our affordable and ethnically diverse neighborhoods on the west side.

The fact that developers are rushing in to create zoning entitlements on these large parcels infers that investment dollars are already pouring in. If this is the case, we urgently need strategies to help people living nearby to remain in their communities and prosper during change.

We should look to areas with thoughtful, planned growth such as Lowry, Stapleton and the Central Platte Valley — 50 acres of vacated railroad property now known as the Riverfront Park neighborhood. In the 1980s the Central Platte Valley offered a unique opportunity to create a neighborhood with parks adjacent to downtown. By taking a comprehensive approach to planning this large area we were able to:

• Create Commons, Cuernavaca and Confluence parks to serve the existing Highland neighborhood, as well as the new development;

• Remove the elevated viaducts and extend the street grid connecting downtown to the neighborhoods west of I-25;

• Provide for the redevelopment of the Union Station area to accommodate light rail and a train connection to the airport;

• Build new roads (Little Raven and Wewatta streets) connecting Pepsi Center to the Denargo Market (aka River North) area;

• Enable dense residential and commercial development.

This plan was very thoughtful about all the needed infrastructure, including South Platte River flood mitigation. The development of this area should give all of us a small idea of the changes that will take place along I-25. In 2000 there were 19 housing units and 23 residents in the area around Union Station. This year the number of housing units surpassed 2,700 and the number of people living in the area reached 3,300. The scale of development slated for the combined locations along I-25 is much, much larger.

If you visualize the highlighted areas transposed over downtown, you’ll realize the huge acreages we’re talking about. These developments are in neighborhoods that are already challenged with transportation and mobility issues, cut off from the central business district by the river, train tracks and I-25 and bisected east/west by Colfax and Sixth avenues. We must plan on how we address these existing problems and those on Federal Boulevard before we place the additional strain of dense development on failing infrastructure.

A big-picture analysis of the cumulative impact of these developments and a plan to develop infrastructure simultaneously with development is essential prior to the issuance of any development permits. We must develop health and safety regulations for development close to highways and active railroad lines that carry hazardous material. The plan must ensure Denver taxpayers aren’t left footing the bill for infrastructure and displacement problems caused by development.

The diverse neighborhood voices on the west side must be included every step of the way. Folks living there provide firsthand perspective on how changes touch their neighborhood. It is time for the city and others to stop promoting redevelopment in these areas until we have a plan in place.

To the extent that we are able, our main objectives as council should be to ensure growth is responsive to community needs and quality-of-life concerns. What I’m hearing is the community wants affordable housing, green space protected, and key infrastructure made ready to meet increased demand. The city’s current form-based zoning code, adopted in 2010, means that the zoning applications council reviews lack critical detail about what a development will look like and how it will affect surrounding neighborhoods. Several of us on council are looking at restoring council land-use powers granted under the City Charter to allow for closer zoning review to strengthen limited current oversight and provide predictability to all involved. We still have a chance to get it right, let’s be thoughtful and intentional to make this happen!

Deborah Ortega is a councilmember at-large on the Denver City Council. At-large council members represent the city as a whole. She can be reached at ortegaatlarge@denvergov.org.

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