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5-story Highland apartments pilloried, praised

RedPeak Properties plans to keep the main church building on this site on Lowell Boulevard, just north of West 32nd Avenue.

Voice your opinion in a poll at the end of this blog.

A ground-swell of grassroots opposition to three, 5-story apartment building slated to be constructed in the heart of the West Highland neighborhood appears to be growing.

Some, however, applaud the proposed development near Lowell Boulevard and West 32nd Avenue.

In any case, Denver-based RedPeak Properties, which has a track-record of building sustainable apartment communities and managing them well, is moving forward on the 160-unit apartment development on three parcels at the church site just north of West 32nd Avenue along Lowell Boulevard and Meade Street. It also includes a site across from the church bordered by Lowell and Moncrieff Place.  The development will have about 225 parking spaces, not the 160 that neighbors were told about this week at what promises to be the first of many meetings on the project.

No to high-rises

At the meeting at the church, titled No High Rises in Highland, about 100 residents gathered, and many of them weren’t thrilled to learn about the plans.

Despite the title of the meeting, Laura Goode, who lives near the church, said the main purpose of the meeting was to “inform and educate” neighbors about the proposal. Indeed, when she took a poll on how many people knew the new U-MS-5 zoning for the property allowed five-story buildings, only about three people raised their hands.

Although city officials say all of the rezonings such as this one – part of the biggest overhaul of the zoning code in Denver’s history – was an open process, Goode said that she believes the rezoning wasn’t properly publicized.

At one point, she said the process sounded like something that would take in place in Russia, not in America.

Goode, who previously had done public relations for giant Canadian developer Intrawest, said that Intrawest had to scrap a proposed $1 billion development in Copper Mountain because of neighborhood opposition, even though Intrawest thought it was a slam dunk.

RedPeak Properties plans to build a 5-story apartment building on this parking lot.

She said the same thing is true with RedPeak, even though their planned development is allowed under the current zoning.

“Ship has not sailed”

“Their ship has not sailed,” she said. “They want you to think their ship has sailed, but it hasn’t.”

One potential option may be to attempt to convince the City Council to down-zone the property. Susan Shepherd, the recently elected City Councilwoman for that district, could not be immediately reached. Goode said when she talked to Shepherd, she was unaware that the zoning allowed 5-story buildings. The zoning took place before she was elected.

Goode and a number of people at the meeting said it appeared that  the church site had been “up-zoned” to allow more density.

Previous zoning had no height limit

However, under the previous zoning of R-4, would have allowed 248,600 square feet of buildings on the three sites. At an average of 800 square feet per unit that would translate into 310 units. Also, R-4 had no height limit, so a developer could have constructed buildings far taller than five stories.

Mitch Markley, who also lives near the site and helped organize the meeting, said he worries the development will bring another 300 to 350 people to an already busy intersection, which will add to congestion and traffic jams. He also said that he fears that the renters will be rowdy and noisy and the buildings will cast a shadow and change the “skyline” of that area. There is, however, already 4-story condo project  adjacent to the site on Lowell Boulevard.

Following the meeting, Markley said he’s not sure if the neighbors are better off working with RedPeak on concessions or try to launch an “all-out” opposition to kill it in its current form.

Evan Lichtenfels, development director for RedPeak, said he thinks the development, as yet unnamed, will be a good fit for West Highland.

First, he said the 225 parking spaces, built on what are known as a “podium parking structure,” where residents take an elevator to halls leading to their units, will mitigate concerns of residents parking on the street, where spaces already are hard to find.

Some neighbors, however, fear that when people visit renters either for parties or to hit the many restaurants and bars along West 32nd Avenue, will soak up scarce street parking and prevent homeowners from parking in front of their homes. Markley said one solution may be to have the city issue parking permits to residents who live near the building.

Neighborhood appeal

“We really like this neighborhood,” Lichtenfels said. “We think it is one of the few truly organic Main Street areas in Denver. We love the unique blend of restaurants and retailers that are nearby and along West 32nd. We are going to be an asset of that neighborhood. We recognize the history of the neighborhood and we are going to design it in a way that it is going to fit in with the neighborhood.”

The buildings are being designed by Humphries Poli Architects. Drawings are not yet available.

In addition to more parking than required, the buildings will include secured storage for bicycles and it will be easy for renters who work downtown to catch a RTD bus on West 32nd Avenue.

Ground-floor retail

The development also have about 10,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor of the buildings along Lowell. Lichtenfels envisions a restaurant on the church site and service retail on the Moncrieff Place property across Lowell Boulevard from the church.

The original church will not be razed or added on. The second floor of the church will likely include amenities for renters such as a fitness center and a cyber-cafe, he said.

“We like how the original church integrates into the development,” Lichtenfels said. “We could get more density – that is, more units, by tearing it down – but we think it will contribute to the overall project.”

Neighborhood demographics also are an appeal.

“You know, the average price of a home in that area is 50 percent higher than for the overall city,” Lichtenfels said. “A lot of young professionals are priced out of buying there. And there are very few new, first-class rental choices in that area.”

Today’s renters, tomorrow’s buyers

He expects that a certain percentage of the renters will end up buying in the neighborhood.

“I would think so,” Lichtenfels said. “We expect that we will primarily rent to young professionals. As they earn more money, a lot of them will probably want to stay here.”

Units will range in size from about 500 square feet to 1,100 square feet. Monthly rents are expected to range from just under $1,000 to $1,800 or $1,900 per month. Twenty five percent of the units will be studios, 25 percent two-bedrooms and 50 percent one-bedrooms. RedPeaks expects the building will be Silver LEED-certified.

Construction likely will start in the late second quarter of next year or in the early third quarter of 2012. Construction will take 18 months.

Jeff Hawks, a principal of Apartment Realty Advisors, estimated the completed cost of the apartment community between $35 million and $40 million.

Hawks said that neighborhood objections to the development fall into three categories:

  • NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.
  • BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone
  • NOPE – Not On Planet Earth.

(Goode, for her part, said she is not anti-developer or anti-development. She said several times she has no problems with re-developing the church site, but would like to see 2-story or even 3-story buildings on the site.)

In any case, Hawks said that he thinks neighbors fears are an expected kneejerk reaction, but are not warranted.

“Look, if all 225 cars were going through that intersection at Lowell and 32nd at once, and you were behind them, it would take four light cycles to get through,” Hawks said.

“But in real life, they are never all arriving home at the exact same time,” Hawks said. “It is staggered. Some people will take their bikes to work nd others will take the bus. Honestly, I don’t think people are going to notice any big changes in traffic.”

Rowdy tenants? Not at these rents

He also said he doesn’t think noise will be an issue.

“A lot of these renters will be making $50,000 or $60,000 a year,” Hawks said. “That’s a pretty good income, but they are priced out of that neighborhood. A high-end development like this doesn’t attract the kind of crowd that causes a ruckus.”

Some renters will end up getting married and will be able to afford to buy in the area when they combine their incomes, he added.

“You also will find renters who previously lived in the neighborhood, got divorced and want to stay near their kids,” Hawks said. “It also will attract a surprising number of retirees. There are a number of retired people who have moved from the suburbs into apartments in LoDo and the Golden Triangle, but would rather live in Highland, but there is nothing available.”

Also, he said that Mike Zoellner, who heads RedPeak, only develops first-class properties. He redeveloped an old office building at 1600 Glenarm Street in downtown Denver and The Seasons of Cherry Creek high-rise near the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Jeff Hawks says RedPeak only builds quality properties, such as the Seasons of Cherry Creek, shown here.

“They should be glad it is Mike Zoellner, who I think is a third-generation Coloradan, and not some out-of-state group that would hold it and flip it in three years,” Hawks said. “RedPeak holds their properties forever and only builds top quality. RedPeak is a great landlord and the units will have granite countertops and other really high-end finishes. These will be condo-quality units. There is no market for condos today. But to tell you the truth, that might be the only location in Denver where you could get away with building a big condo project.”

Barnes bucks blight cries

Dave Barnes, who recently moved about a mile north of the church, but frequently walks around the West Highland area with his wife, Tracie, said that in his mind opposition to the development is classic NIMBYism.

“The big square box (added to the church in the 1940s) that is there now is ugly,” Barnes said. “The church is not much better. Clearly, it does not have a classical look worth preserving, in my opinion.”

He does agree that the new 5-story buildings will “loom,” an opinion held by a number of people who attended this week’s meeting.

But he said there are other considerations.

“The site currently generates $37,000 annually in real estate taxes,” Barnes said. “My best guess is that will increase to over $150,000. That seems like a good thing to me.”

In addition, “some ugly parking lots will disappear.”

Still, Barnes realizes his is a minority viewpoint that is not shared by people who live closer to the church.

“Those who live nearby will be opposed because they don’t want the change,” Barnes said.

And those who don’t live nearby, simply don’t care, he said.

My feelings regarding the 3, 5-story buildings on this site would be described in the following way.

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For other news about the Highland area, please visit this Highland Pulse link from 8z Real Estate.

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