Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Neighborhood residents plan to picket proposed high-rise development

Residents angered by a plan for a 12-story residence on public land west of the University of Denver light-rail platform met April 5 to strengthen resolve to defeat the measure and plan picketing of the site as soon as Monday.

The group of some 30 residents and neighborhood organization representatives also promised a mass protest against the high-rise proposal on April 28 and a coordinated effort to defeat it when the issue comes before Denver City Council on April 30.

“If we go down, we’ll go down fighting,” resident Allan Ferguson said April 5. Ferguson showed off red, blue and green-painted picket signs that demanded “No High-Rise Here” and asked motorists to “Honk for Open Space.” He told residents that escalated opposition is “the right thing to do.”

“We want to be visible, active, noisy,” echoed Liz Ullman, head of University Neighbors, which along with the West University Community Association has opposed the project over the past several years.

“Our objections fall into four general categories: traffic, parking, density and safety,” she said. “Now is the time to pull out all the stops.”

The proposal to which neighbors object would usher in construction of a 210-unit blend of residences and ground floor retail shops on Buchtel Boulevard north of the University of Denver. The high-rise would be built on a 2.75-acre triangle of land presently occupied by the RTD parking garage, light-rail station and a grassy area west of the platform being used as a “detention basin” for storm-water runoff.

The land is owned by a triumvirate that includes the Colorado Department of Transportation, the city of Denver and RTD and is zoned R-3 for residential use. The rezoning plan on the table would change the property to RMU-30, a broader category that allows everything from retail shops and a hotel to a bookstore or museum.

The rezoning is being spearheaded by George Thorn, president of Mile High Development, which constructed Denver’s Wellington Webb office building and the new Denver Art Museum, among other structures. Thorn proposes to lease the land and build a high-rise for use as either rental housing for graduate students or a residence for seniors. No determination has been made, and only general outlines of Thorn’s plan have been made public because the rezoning does not require a detailed development plan.

Thorn has said previously that the rezoning is justified by RTD’s and Denver’s commitment to Transit Oriented Development, an initiative to encourage development near transit stops as a way of discouraging auto use. Both the city Planning Board and council’s Blueprint Denver committee agree and have advanced the issue to the full City Council with recommendations to approve.

The uncertainty about the project maddens many people who live nearby and say it is not yet clear how the light-rail station, which opened Nov. 17, 2006, is working — let alone what impact a high-rise might have.

“How do we know this is the right fit when we have no plan?” asked Julie Connor, aide to Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie and a candidate for MacKenzie’s District 7 seat in the May 1 city election. “Our rezoning process is bass akwards. We rezone and then deal with the impact rather than plan for the impact and rezone accordingly.”

To read more about the rezoning efforts, please see the DU Today archives and the following

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