Denver Direct: Squandering opportunity in North Denver

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Squandering opportunity in North Denver

By Tom Anthony
I-70 severed Globeville, Elyria and Swansea from the fabric of urban Denver in 1960 and they have struggled ever since. While CDOT has recently introduced a new option for a sub-grade I-70 after 9 years of studying the current viaduct, these three neighborhoods have additional challenges in being re-woven into Denver. From a planning perspective, a zoning map of our neighborhoods will immediately show the problem: we are historic islands of residential zoning in a sea of industrial.

While avant garde ecospeak has identified us as a “food desert” the real problem isn’t lack of water or food. It’s lack of people. Retail business 101 counts “rooftops” as identifiers of fallow opportunities, and the north neighborhoods don’t have enough rooftops for a grocery store; not to mention a restaurant. Since FasTracks is placing a new commuter rail station at 48th and Brighton Blvd., our neighborhoods have the chance to overcome the “lack of rooftops” obstacle to convenient living: nearby grocery stores, restaurants and other retail. However, broad brush-strokes aren’t going to suffice in a constricted urban zone.

With I-70’s footprint expanding, I-25 always looming, the Stock Show looking to expand, densities looking to increase with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) around commuter rail stops, and a finite Platte River Greenway growing more significant with each day of drought, the north neighborhoods present a pretty planning puzzle. Yet, what is the official position of the City and County of Denver in regards to this? The City has begun a piecemeal plan for Globeville, virtually excluding residents of Swansea and Elyria from the process. In addition, the City has committed to helping bury 80 acres of toxic waste at the Globeville ASARCO site, deed-restricting the property to exclude any new residential uses adjacent the 200-unit Globeville Townhomes and the 600-enrollee Laradon Hall. Downgradient, the old ASARCO slag heap over 100 acres in size has been covered with dirt and called a “Natural Area:” permanently off-limits to virtually any human use, adjacent to the Platte River Greenway.

Nobody has asked the question of where a new school will be built to accommodate all the children of the new residents from River North and the other nearby TOD developments at 41st and Fox, 38th and Blake, and 48th and Brighton, not to mention 41st and Colorado Blvd. Garden Place and Swansea Elementary already deal with highway issues. Wouldn’t it be nice to locate a learning facility adjacent the Platte River Bike Path, where children could access it safely via bicycle, and the daily classroom experience is augmented by river, lake and park far from arterial streets and interstate highways? Yet this land is in the process of being permanently compromised by the City and County of Denver.

Where will the 600 children attending Swansea Elementary School attend classes during the 4-year construction period for the new I-70? Will they be expected to sit quietly and learn while bulldozers and jackhammers construct the new infrastructure in their playground, 70 feet from their school?

Will the Stock Show and Purina continue to dominate the planning conversations for our neighborhoods? How much of the currently existing and mostly vacant industrial property will grow into residences and mixed uses? With the I-70 East Corridor DEIS and the RTD North Metro station project already underway, isn’t it past time to provide some comprehensive answers?