Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Neighbors fighting light-rail apartments

Two determined neighborhood groups on DU’s doorstep have voted to directly challenge the city of Denver,  the Regional Transportation District  and one of the most prominent developers in the metro area.

The dispute is over a sliver of land that nudges the platform on the west end of the new University of Denver light-rail station on Buchtel Boulevard.

The land and adjoining property, which is occupied by RTD’s new parking garage, are owned by RTD and the city of Denver. A rezoning proposal would change the designation from residential use to RMU-30, a much broader category.

The developer is George Thorn, whose Mile High Development wants to build an 11-story apartment building of one- and two-bedroom rentals and ground-floor retail shops next to the station. Mile High Development recently completed a $75 million condo project at the Denver Art Museum and built the $200 million Wellington Webb municipal building and the $200 million Colorado Center at I-25 and Colorado Boulevard.

The citizens groups are the West University Community Association and University Neighbors, which want to hold off any construction for at least a year. The groups believe it will take that long to see how the new station functions and decide whether the land would be better used to aid transit than to house people.

The West University association represents residents from University Boulevard west to Broadway and from Interstate 25 south to the Denver city limits. University Neighbors includes residents from University Boulevard west to Downing Street and from Buchtel Boulevard south to the city limits.

“We just don’t see the need for an apartment building to be squished into that tiny piece of land,” said Katie Fisher, president of the West University group.

In early and mid-November, the community groups’ boards voted unanimously to oppose the rezoning, which will be considered at a Dec. 20 public hearing before the Denver Planning Board.

The actions followed months of informal talks that ended in impasse, Fisher said.

The developer maintained that developing the land was consistent with the goals of Transit Oriented Development, a concept for compelling maximum use of mass transit systems in urban areas.

Redevelopment on the property was desirable because it “increases the number of residential units near a light-rail station, links land use with transportation and supports the use of alternate modes of transportation,” according to the rezoning application submitted by Mile High Development on behalf of Denver and RTD.    

The application described the proposed project as a “mid-rise residential transit-oriented building … with zero setbacks.” Its parking obligation would be satisfied by constructing a fifth floor atop the 541-vehicle RTD garage for the exclusive use of building residents.

The extra floor would be paid for by the developer, said Susan Altes, contact person for RTD, in the event an agreement is completed. However, none is, she said. And other details such as whether the land is to be sold or leased are not determined, she said.

Altes declined to comment on the neighborhood opposition, and phone calls and e-mails to the developer were not returned.

“This neighborhood is exhausted from change,” said Julie Connor, aide to District 7 City Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie. “Our office has been begging the planning board, ‘Please give these neighbors a break. See how things unfold before you add this very large project.’ ”

Planning officials had asked the neighborhood groups for their opinions as part of an analysis of the proposal, which has not been completed, said Caryn Wenzara, senior city planner. 

“We like to wait and see all the information before we do our analysis,” she told University Neighbors. “This is a very tough one.”

The difficulty is that the neighborhoods’ opposition to the rezoning is based in large part on details of the builder’s project, but those details are not the focus of the rezoning analysis, Wenzara explained.

DU officials discussed partnering with the developer on the project but voted against it in the fall.

[Editor’s note: The public hearing before the Denver Planning Board was originally scheduled for Dec. 6.]

This article originally appeared in
The Source, December 2006.

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