Rezone for CHUN’s ‘historical treasure’ mansion underway

Cheesman Park area could see cafe at historic site

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It has been a long journey for the Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods organization to figure out what to do with what it refers to as its historical treasure — the Tears-McFarlane mansion.

Now, “with the right players in place,” said CHUN’s board president Travis Leiker, “it has got so much potential.”

The Tears-McFarlane mansion, 1290 Williams St., is a CHUN-owned property just north of Cheesman Park. The Colonial Revival style mansion was built in 1899 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

The mansion was gifted to CHUN in 2005, and the organization took full ownership of it in 2015. A year later, CHUN faced financial challenges and selling the mansion was brought up as a relief to the struggles.

However, in the summer of 2016, CHUN’s board of directors voted to keep the mansion. The main reason being that the voting bodies felt it was — and is — a community asset.

“There are a lot of people, who have nothing to do with (CHUN’s) board, who really feel a sense of ownership of this building,” said CHUN board member Megan Whelan. She pointed to the people who have enjoyed CHUN’s past educational and community-oriented programs that have taken place at the mansion. “If CHUN had sold this building, that’s over. It’d be a private building that’s not a community resource.”

To continue providing the mansion and its annex building as a community resource, CHUN realized a source of revenue would be required and a rezone of the property would be needed to accomplish that.

Currently zoned for high-density residential uses, CHUN wanted to scale that back, Leiker said.

The application, which was filed on Jan. 2, is for a Planned Unit Development — which allows for customized, site-specific development — with general urban neighborhood standards. It also requests to create two subareas so development standards can be addressed separately for the house, which is roughly 8,700 square feet, and the adjacent Hedlund Hall, better known as the mansion’s annex building, which is about 1,500 square feet.

The mansion’s current zoning has an overlay that allows for office space and bed-and-breakfast uses. CHUN plans on keeping its headquarters there, leasing office space to small businesses and nonprofits, and the mansion will continue to be available for small public events and meetings, as well as CHUN programming.

Though the mansion is in need of some costly renovations, the major change will be to the hall, which was built by the city of Denver in the early 1980s to serve as an event center. Unlike the mansion, it does not have historic designation.

It wasn’t well-constructed in the first place, Leiker said, and is currently in poor condition.

“If we are able to salvage portions of the current building, we will. But we don’t think (that) will be the case,” Leiker said. “In all likelihood, it will be torn down and replaced with a new structure.”

However, a new structure wouldn’t drastically change the footprint of what’s already there, Leiker said. And it will be much more “visually pleasing from multiple vantage points,” Leiker added. Any rebuild will be done within the property lines — meaning the patio would no longer encroach onto the city’s Cheesman Park property as it does now. The proposed revitalization also includes grounds work and an overall improved public space.

Proposed new development plans include opening a small café with a full coffee shop. The café will serve breakfast snacks and juices; grab-and-go salads, fresh deli sandwiches and desserts; and beer and wine.

Partnering 50-50 with CHUN on the proposed project is City Street Investors LLC, a Denver-based real estate investment company. CHUN will sell 50% of the property equity to City Street, and retain a 50% interest. Proceeds of the sale will go toward an endowment for CHUN services.

City Street will finance the revitalization costs, which as of February was estimated at north of $3 million for the project, said Pat McHenry, principal with City Street. That includes about $250,000 of deferred maintenance projects and about $1.5 million for renovations.

Although the application is underway in the rezone process with the city, it could still be several months before the city makes any decisions.

Bruce O’Donnell, who is serving as CHUN’s rezoning consultant, added the city will entertain two public hearings on the rezone application. The first will be in front of the Denver Planning Board, which will make a recommendation to city council on the rezone application. The second public hearing will be in front of Denver’s city council, which will make the deciding vote on the rezone application.

It’s likely both public hearings are still six to eight months in the future, O’Donnell said.

CHUN and City Street Investors say sufficient public outreach was done prior to proposing any plans for the rezone application. Between 2017 and 2019, focus group meetings took place and park-users were surveyed.

Still, some neighbors — people representing the nearby condominium communities of Park Towers, Highgate and One Cheesman Place, all within a couple blocks of the Tears-McFarlane mansion and Cheesman Park — feel the project plans for the rezone request were not properly communicated.

“We had to reach out to CHUN to find out what they were doing. We were kept in the dark,” said Jay Rust, a resident of Park Towers. “People in our building were surprised to hear about these plans. And they were not in support.”

A prime concern is the commercialization of Cheesman Park.

With commercialization comes additional noise, the neighbors said, specifically from beeping delivery and garbage trucks that will have to service a café more frequently than any of the current uses at the mansion.

They also voiced concerns about odor — industrial venting and possibly food trucks — and parking in an area where it’s already limited. CHUN, however, expects the café won’t be a destination spot for people across the city, but rather an amenity for Cheesman Park visitors and the immediate neighborhood, who may largely visit it on foot or bike.

The neighbors’ concerns are in addition to their argument that the neighborhood is already well-served with other nearby bar and restaurant establishments.

It may be a great way for CHUN to generate revenue, said Robert Fox, Highgate condos’ manager. “But we just don’t think it’s suitable for this area.”

Along with that, the neighbors question the viability of the proposed café’s revenue stream.

“CHUN’s expertise is in community relations. A commercial enterprise has come in, and made promises to them to form a joint venture, 50/50,” said Tim Haddon, president of One Cheesman Place’s HOA. “From the information we’ve been given, it doesn’t appear that it’s viable. (And) until we can see the numbers and they can prove it to us, I just don’t see it.”

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