Saturday, June 29, 2013
Proposed Wall of 20 Story Highrises Along 17th Avenue Shock Sloan’s Lake Citizen Senses
By Larry Ambrose
On Wednesday, June 26 the Sloan’s Lake and West Side communities saw for the first time the St. Anthony’s General Development Plan presented by EnviroFinance Group (EFG). The meeting, was held as a requirement of the the City’s General Development Plan (GDP) and rezoning process. The City code requires the GDP applicant, in this case EFG, to hold a public meeting, present the substantive content of their preliminary application, record public comment, and submit a written report of such recorded comments to Community Planning and Development.
The GDP showed massive development with a wall of buildings along 17th Avenue 12 to 20 stories tall. The meeting was run in such a manner that no public comment was allowed. There was, however, more than an hour of content presented by EFG’s Cameron Bertron, former Redevelopment Manager for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) and architecture and planning firm RNL. RNL principle, Brad Buchanan, who recently retired as Chair of the Denver Planning Board, addressed the benefits of 20 story buildings next to 17th Avenue.
Serving as a middleman, EFG was formed in 2006 to buy, re-purpose and resell land where there is presence or potential presence of pollutants or contaminants. The company’s CEO is former Wall Street financier, Edward K. Elanjian. EFG’s plan is to rezone the property and then sell it off in parcels to as many as seven different developers. The plan is on a fast track for August GDP approval by the Denver Planning Board, tax increment financing by DURA and a special metropolitan tax district and rezoning by City Council.
Although mentioned in passing, mostly forgotten at the “hearing” was the St. Anthony Redevelopment Plan which, was published in 2006. Beginning back in 2005, more than 100 members of the Sloan’s Lake and West Colfax community were involved in a very thorough, thoughtful and lengthy planning process. The St. Anthony’s Redevelopment Task Force met for a year. The final recommendations were a model for a cooperative community planning process. Many ideas and compromises resulted in a report which was later to be incorporated by reference into the West Colfax Plan. Centura St. Anthony’s said this about the process at the time:
The community’s compelling vision for the site provided the common voice for the surrounding neighborhoods and brought together the people of Denver, the City government, and St. Anthony Hospitals to achieve mutual goals to enhance an already great community.
Unfortunately, EFG’s and RNL’s vision ignores the important elements envisioned by the community planning process. The GDP requires the applicants to carefully follow the West Colfax Plan. Adopted by City Council in 2006, defines the St. Anthony site as an Urban Town Center incorporating by direct reference the St. Anthony Plan saying “the guiding principles of the St. Anthony’s Redevelopment Task Force should be utilized in preparing and implementing future plans on the 16 acre site. Here are those principles:
● Create a town center linking the neighborhood to the development
● Incorporate Sloan’s Lake Park into the design by bringing it in the form of a plaza across 17th Avenue into the development.
● Utilize the plaza for community gatherings festivals, concerts, seasonal farmers markets and special events
● Take advantage of some of the best views in Denver through a site design which maximizes views to the mountains, toward downtown and to Sloan’s Lake by keeping heights 2 to 3 stories on the edges with residential buildings increasing in height as they are stepped back massed closer to Colfax
● Become the social and cultural hub of the neighborhood
● Fit seamlessly with surrounding neighborhoods
Unfortunately, by chopping up this site into seven sites, much of this comprehensive vision is lost. Because the buildings will face each other and block each others’ views, instead of views of the lake, the mountains and the city lights, residents will mostly be looking into their neighbors’ windows. What is worse is the pitiful amount and location of open space in the development. Instead of providing the public plaza along 17th as envisioned in the St. Anthony plan, a one block long, street wide plaza between Raleigh and Stuart street is hidden in the middle of even more tall buildings.
Even though asking for the high density, high rise zoning, EFG is saying no one is knocking down their door to build a 20 story building. Why then do they want such heights and density? The question is whether this GDP and consequential rezoning serves to justify the price of the land rather than to benefit the neighborhood, the City or, even the final developers. If land is over-zoned and priced too high for the market, it may never be developed. By granting the rezoning to the massive density requested, the City is, in effect, giving a windfall for someone who is going to sell and walk away.
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