Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Developer buys land at light-rail station for rental project

light-rail station entrance

Developer George Thorn purchased the sliver of land near the DU light-rail station to build an apartment complex.

The University of Denver light-rail station is one step closer to having a rental apartment on site and the station entrance redesigned. 

Regional Transportation District (RTD) officials last month sold a thin, half-acre triangle of land above a detention pond just west of the station platform to developer George Thorn for what the he says will be “some form of rental with a small retail component.”

Among possibilities are senior-oriented housing and apartments for working people who commute by rail. It won’t be a for-sale condo, luxury units or student housing, he says.

“The student housing market wasn’t as deep as people thought,” Thorn says, referring to recent projects east of University Boulevard that were built for the student market but have struggled.

The sliver of land RTD sold to Thorn’s University Station LLC for $500,000 differs from those projects by its proximity to light-rail. That closeness characterizes the site as a transit-oriented development project primarily intended to integrate housing with transportation.

Thorn says design, marketing and financing for the venture are still under review, but it’s possible the project could break ground as soon as next summer.

“Twelve to 14 months if things go well,” he says. “We have to decide what product to go with and what financing we can get. We have a lot of options.”

One of the choices Thorn says he’s committed to as part of any design is reworking the entrance to the DU Station parking garage. Presently the design causes problems for motorists dropping off or picking up rail passengers. Thorn’s solution is to loop a road from the station entrance at High Street west under his building and out again onto Buchtel Boulevard.

“It’s not designed yet but everybody involved wants to see that happen,” he says. “We’re not required to do that but we want to.”

Other details to be worked out include positioning the detention pond presently on the property and meeting parking requirements. Providing for cars was among the uncertainties that unsettled neighbors when the idea of building near the station was first floated back in 2006. The proposal sparked protests and led to heavy opposition in the neighborhood. Enough opposition remains for Thorn to commit to involving neighbors at every turn.

Liz Ullman, president of the neighborhood organization University Neighbors, says she hopes communication with residents is better in the future than it was in the past. Neighbors still believe that building on the site will be disruptive, she says, but they can’t do anything to prevent it.

“We have raised the white flag,” she says. “We lost every single battle and then we lost the war.”

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