Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Light-rail high rise put on hold

Neighbors’ objections to building a 12-story high-rise next to the University of Denver light-rail station delayed the project on Feb. 28 but haven’t defused it.

City Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie advanced three conditions she said were in response to neighbors’ discomfort with plans for a 210-unit rental tower over a detention pond just west of the station platform. But she held out little hope the conditions would do the trick.

“I can’t say (these) would yield any support from the community,” she conceded at a meeting of Blueprint Denver, a City Council committee that reviews planning and zoning matters.

The conditions address building height, landscaping and disruption of the neighborhood caused by construction, three objections among a litany that opponents have voiced in the two years the project has been on the table.

The height restriction condition would block any building taller than 140 feet should future zoning limits be loosened. George Thorn, president of Mile High Development, the builder who would benefit from the plan to rezone the land, told City Council’s Blueprint Denver Committee that the rental tower he envisions would not exceed that height.

The conditions as to landscaping and construction chaos were incomplete and are to be laid out March 14 when the committee again takes up the proposal.

City Council members say they are in a bind. On one hand, the rezoning proposal is consistent with Transit Oriented Development, the principle that marrying high-density residences with convenient mass transit helps discourage automobiles and promotes energy efficient living. City planners say the project fits the profile perfectly and is consistent with every zoning code and development plan on the books.

On the other hand, neighborhood groups hate it.

“There is not one neighbor within 10 blocks that supports this,” MacKenzie lamented. “I’m concerned about being an agent of a government that says ‘we don’t care what you think.’”

The result was MacKenzie’s three conditions, which are in addition to a waiver that would more specifically control how a developer provided parking.

Overshadowing all this is uncertainty about how the city could stand behind its zoning code while attaching conditions, waivers or agreements to any proposal that doesn’t seem to fit.

“Customized zoning hurts zoning enforcement,” said Peter Park, director of Planning.

But not customizing leaves City Council with “no tools” for solving development problems, complained District 4 City Councilwoman Peggy Lehmann.

“(Conditions) say we heard what you were concerned about and did the best we could to respond to it,” MacKenzie said.

Listening carefully was Thorn, who is targeting the building as rental housing for graduate students but hasn’t dismissed the idea it could become a senior citizens complex.

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