Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Denver is thriving and growing and being redeveloped at a rapid clip — to the dismay of some residents grappling to preserve the vanishing character and charm of their neighborhood.
Take the case of a rezoning proposal before the Denver City Council on Monday. Property owner Urban Land Acquisitions LLC requested a 0.24-acre lot at 1208 N. Quitman St. be rezoned to allow for a five-story development with a mix of residential and non-residential (like retail) on the ground floor. The zoning would also allow for an all commericial-use development, though square footage would be limited to 10,000 square feet. There isn’t yet a development plan for the site.
But the possibility of a five-story building in the West Colfax neighborhood filled with single-family homes and three-story, multi-unit buildings didn’t sit well with some residents. About half a dozen neighbors voiced their concern about the zoning proposal during a public hearing Monday night. And, the city received 27 letters in opposition and 26 in support, including the Sloan’s Lake Citizen Group, Senior City Planner Theresa Lucero said.
Bruce O’Donnell, spokesperson for property owner, noted the owner has listened to the neighborhood concerns, mainly focused on the possible height of the building, and has proposed a covenant that would restrict height to four stories and 55 feet on the lot for the next 25 years.
Nonetheless, neighbors advocated for the City Council to recommend the owner amend the rezoning request to allow for three stories, mixed-use on the parcel, to help maintain some of the character of the neighborhood while allowing for redevelopment. (There is a zoning district that would allow for three-story, mixed-use, but it didn’t exist when the owner initially filed the proposal. Council President Albus Brooks was miffed this zoning district wasn’t part of the discussion in light of height concerns before the proposal reached the full council).
But, arguing it is bound to consider a rezoning proposal based on whether it meets defined criteria, the City Council approved the measure 8-3. Brooks and Council members Rafael Espinoza and Kevin Flynn cast the nay votes.
“It’s in compliance with our plans, it’s in compliance with the West Colfax neighborhood plan and it’s not the only development in the neighborhood,” Councilman Paul Lopez, whose district encompasses the neighborhood, said of the rezoning proposal.
Espinoza wasn’t convinced the zoning proposal was in agreement with adopted plans.
“Philosophically, my heart is in this sort of zone district, but I cannot support it because I don’t think it has valid plan support that it needs in order for us to grossly say the criteria has been met” he said.
Acknowledging that Denver is growing, neighbor John Buckner characterized development in his area as both a benefit and a curse. Since moving into the neighborhood in 2013, his block has been inundated with multi-unit developments, leaving unrecognizable the neighborhood he knew when he moved.
The area is rapidly changing, Lucero noted during a presentation. Eight multi-unit developments have gone up in the last three years, and four more are currently under review.
“We are seeing rather rapid redevelopment of the area,” Lucero said.
With the site next to the Perry Street light rail station, high-density development makes sense, Council members said. The city has increasingly encouraged such development by public transit to encourage commuters to use the train instead of drive.
“What good is a light rail station around a bunch of single-family homes?” Lopez said.
As the 22-year-old Denver International Airport outgrows its dated design, it must undergo a modernization of sorts, principally to address security vulnerabilities like long lines at security checkpoints.
That’s airport officials’ contention in touting a stout, complex $1.8 billion, 34-year public-private partnership with a consortium of companies led by Spanish transportation infrastructure behemoth Ferrovial.
The Great Hall Project will help one of Colorado’s major transportation hubs adapt to the evolving nature of air travel, airport executives say.
“You do not use terminals today like you did in 1995,” DIA CEO Kim Day said during a Denver committee meeting last month.
It would chiefly address security issues at screening points through $650 million in renovations. The proposed four-year overhaul would move security screening from level 5 to the sixth floor alongside ticketing; resolve the awkward flow of passenger traffic; triple the space for new concessions on level 5; and add new technology improving efficiency at security checkpoints and check-in areas among other additions, airport executives say.
And with DIA passenger traffic swelling to 58.3 million last year and the airport on pace to set a new passenger record by year’s end, the renovations would address perpetual growth at the airport, boosting capacity in the Jeppesen terminal to 80 million passengers per year.
“We are exceeding the design capacity of the terminal and we will not be able to accommodate the growth that our airlines are projecting,” Day said of not moving forward with the renovations.
Much of the Denver City Council appears poised to OK the partnership, and local construction leaders are giddy over the potential for new work in the city, but the 15,000-page pact has drawn the critical eye of airlines, labor unions, community members and City Council members including Deborah Ortega and Rafael Espinoza.
Both have said they’re uneasy about the lose of oversight detailed in the contract regarding concessions, with the consortium taking over management control of new concessions for three decades under the agreement, and wary of what they characterize as inadequate time to weigh the agreement before a vote. Ortega and Espinoza co-authored a letter requesting a vote postponement of 120 days to afford more time to study the pact.
But the clock is ticking on the City Council. Though the city would retain all the design and other work done to this point, it would be on the hook for a $9 million penalty paid to the partners if the agreement isn’t approved by Sept. 1.
Nonetheless, the City Council could vote on the deal as early as Aug. 14.
“If DIA wants my vote (on Aug. 14), I’ll need more time,” Espinoza told Colorado Politics. “DIA likely feels comfortable it has the requisite number of votes. But I’m making it clear. I am not comfortable moving forward. I need more time with the contract.”
Under the agreement, DIA will be on the hook for as much as $1.8 billion. DIA CFO Gisela Shanahan said the airport will contribute $480 million toward the renovations via progress payments over the four years of construction, and allocate an additional $120 million in contingency funds.
Over the remaining 30 years of the agreement, DIA could pay up to $1.2 billion in reimbursement payments to the Ferrovial partners for concessions operations and maintenance costs and financing costs.
Meanwhile, the consortium partners — Ferrovial, Saunders Concessions and MJE/Loop Capital — will invest $378 million over the life of the deal through cash, debt and other means. The partners do expect a return on their investment of 10.8 percent.
Ferrovial will design and construct the renovations and assume the risk for any cost overruns or delays on the project. While Ferrovial will operate new concessions, Denver will split revenues taking 80 percent to 20 percent and retain control of concessions on DIA’s three concourses.
Officials say the airport could go it alone in financing the project for a lower price tag, but the partnership shields DIA from some of the risks associated with the project.
‘Paying a premium’
While he acknowledges the built-in protections in the public-private partnership, Espinoza said DIA is paying a premium for those benefits. He’d rather take the work already done, have the airport go it alone and finance the project at a lower cost. Considering the length of the agreement and the Ferrovial consortium taking management control of new concessions, he said it appears the deal is designed to circumvent the Council.
Other City Council members like Christopher Herndon have expressed support for the agreement, but Espinoza said he needs more time to see what other Council members see in the pact.
“This is a lot for me to digest in a very limited amount of time,” he said during a July 26 committee meeting on the project.
Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has also been outspoken on the project arguing she isn’t comfortable with the City Council’s loss of oversight for concession contracts. In a letter advocating for an 120-extension, she said there are unanswered questions.
“Mayor Hancock and DIA should pursue a 120-day extension to provide Council time to fully review a contract it took three years to develop,” Ortega and Espinoza wrote. “It would also provide time for the DIA team to work with our partner airlines that will incur a 28 percent increase in fees to provide concession space in the main hall.”
Local labor union leaders have expressed anxiety over protections for airport workers and airlines like United, Frontier and Southwest say they back renovating the airport, but are concerned about the operational and financial feasibility of the project.
United Airlines President Scott Kirby said level 6 is already crowded and the renovations would leave little room for travelers. And estimates place DIA wait times on an average day at 82 minutes Kirby said.
“That’s the root of our concern,” he said. “If you’re going to do something like that, people won’t come to Denver. We are really concerned that we harm the airport and the local economy by doing this.”
If approved, DIA construction could start next summer in “discrete phases” as to avoid disrupting travel through the Mile High City.
After nearly a decade, Denver Regional Transportation District’s University of Denver and Colorado light rail stations need to become more visible gateways to surrounding communities, rather than the "back doors" they now represent to their neighborhoods, according to a study of the two stations and their mobility possibilities.
“It is time these stations transition from commuter stations to integrated mobility hubs and active local destinations,” reads an online City and County of Denver study description.
The city moved to designate about 65 acres of open space as new Denver parks May 2, protecting the land from being developed or sold.
The new park designations include 30 acres of Northfield Pond Park and six acres at the Southwest Recreation Center and were part of the city’s tenth round of designations over a five-year span.
A first-time, multi-department planning process in the City and County of Denver — known as Denveright — is working well, members of Denver City Council were recently told. The effort was announced nearly one year ago by Mayor Michael Hancock and is designed to show a vision for Denver over the next two decades. Four coordinated plans will help shape the future of Denver’s land use, mobility and parks and recreational resources.
Instead of a sought-after additional five hours of business, Denver's recreational marijuana dispensaries seem likely to be allowed three extra hours, and city coffers could see between $664,000 to $1.3 million in extra revenue if all those dispensaries decided to take advantage of the extra hours that may soon be allowed under a City and County of Denver policy change. But the idea is not unanimously supported on Denver City Council or by the body's constituents.
Currently, Denver’s hours of operation for both medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. State regulations allow all marijuana dispensaries to be open from 8 a.m. to midnight, subject to local regulation. Many other Colorado municipalities allow dispensaries to stay open until either 10 p.m. or midnight, including Aurora, Boulder, Commerce City, Edgewater and Glendale.
A five-party funding arrangement is to be considered by Denver City Council that would eventually allow some 2,800 new homes to be built on the former Stapleton International Airport property, which was decommissioned in the mid-1990s.
The Stapleton “Five Parties” (City and County of Denver, Denver Urban Renewal Authority, Denver Public Schools, Forest City and Park Creek Metropolitan District) have agreed on an arrangement to fund and build an additional school, fire station and other infrastructure at Stapleton.
Comments from two Denver residents against a two-month extension of the City Council's moratorium on small lot parking exemptions led to some heated responses from a few councilmen and an apology from one if he had gone too far.
Almost every new resident of Denver adds another automobile to the city's already crowded roads and highways, and those cars and trucks need a place to park when their owners are home or elsewhere.
The advent of “micro” housing units, also known as tiny houses, in established Denver neighborhoods led to concerns over the city's pre-existing small lot parking exemption in the city zoning code, especially if two such lots were developed side by side, said City Council President Albus Brooks.
Several Denver City Council members have reservations about a proposed $4 million loan to help see a Target open on the downtown 16th Street Mall.
The city's budget and management office is requesting a $4 million supplemental appropriation for the Office of Economic Development’s Business Incentive Fund. That office wants to loan the funds to a developer, 16 Cal, LLC, to help a Target general merchandise mass retail store open on the mall at 1601 California St.