On Tuesday night, the West Highland Neighborhood Association updated members on a lawsuit that seeks to stop RedPeak Properties plan for three luxury apartment buildings in the heart of the trendy neighborhood.
A three-day jury trial on the lawsuit, which alleges “impermissible” spot-zoning for the three parcels near West 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, and claims that the proposed buildings would reduce nearby property values, is set in Denver District Court from May 28-30, according to a court document.
Prior to the trial, both sides will engage in discovery, in which the attorneys can ask questions from the other side, Conor Farley, an attorney who lives in the neighborhood who has been designated as the WHNA’s representative told about 15 people who attended the update meeting. He said if there are no disputed material facts, either side could ask the judge for summary judgement to dismiss the case. If that occurred, there would not be a trial.
Last month, about 60 members of the WHNA overwhelmingly voted to join the lawsuit as a plaintiff, but would incur no legal costs by doing so. In addition to RedPeak, defendants in the lawsuit include City Council members and the ownership groups that own the parcels in question.
Days after the WHNA joined the lawsuit, Denver District Court Judge Robert C. McGahey refused to dismiss the lawsuit and set the trial date. The lawsuit calls for the current zoning for the parcels, U-MS-5, be remanded to the City Council. It does not specify new zoning for the parcels and it is unclear what would happen if the plaintiffs won and the council re-affirmed the current zoning or approved another zoning designation that the neighbors also found unacceptable.
“I do not know the answer to that,” Farley said. “It is pretty theoretical.”
Richard Montoya, one of the plaintiffs, said RedPeak has requested to be dismissed from the lawsuit. Farley said he had heard rumors that RedPeak was seeking to be dropped as a defendant, but he had not had that confirmed. RedPeak has the parcels under contract to a group headed by Tom Wootten, but does not own the land. RedPeak officials have declined to comment publicly since the lawsuit was filed.
Meanwhile, a grassroots group, No High Rises in West Highland, was formed almost exactly a year ago to fight RedPeak’s plans, which calls for five-story buildings on Meade Street and Lowell Boulevard and a four-story building on West Moncrieff Place. Together, the green, sustainable buildings would have 147 units.
The original 10 plaintiffs in the lawsuit also are also members of the No High Rise group.
Earlier in the year, another group, Friends of West Highland Landmarks, unsuccessfully tried to declare a portion of the former Beth Eden Baptist Church building on Lowell Boulevard as a historic designated structure, making it more difficult to demolish it.
RedPeak’s plan calls for tearing down a portion of the building and incorporating the rest of it into its apartment community.
However, starting next March, a five-year deadline will have expired and people who do not own the property can again seek historic status for the entire building.
“Oh, boy. I don’t know if we would do that,” said Marilyn Quinn, who helped spearhead the historic status attempt.
“We haven’t thought that far ahead,” she said. “We were really disappointed that they didn’t accept our original application. It was a really good application. But I would have to say at this time, we don’t have any plans to re-submit it.”
However, it could become a moot point if the landowners decided to raze that part of the building before March.
Laura Goode, the founder of No High Rises in West Highland, said people in her group were divided on whether the portion of the building was worth saving.
However, she said she and some of the members of her group are incensed that RedPeak is a Bronze-level sponsor for the 42nd annual dinner later this month for Historic Denver Inc. a non-profit group whose mission is to preserve historic buildings. A Bronze level sponsorship costs $3,500. The awards dinner is being held at Oct. 30 at the Brown Palace Hotel and Spa.
Goode said several No High Rise members are “just infuriated” that RedPeak is one of the sponsors and have cancelled their long-time memberships with Historic Denver Inc. because of it.
Goode, who is a not a member of Historic Denver Inc., also was angry with RedPeak’s sponsorship, calling it “despicable politicking. (RedPeak is) using their money and deep pockets to gain favor with Historic Denver. These guys are lobbying hard. They are trying to game the system. I think being a sponsor of Historic Denver would raise the eyebrow of any objective observer.”
Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, declined to comment, noting the group had taken no position on the historical merits of the former Beth Eden Church and is not familiar with any opposition to RedPeak’s sponsorship.
Officials from RedPeak declined to comment.
However, one person familiar with RedPeak, said it is puzzling why the developer’s sponsorship of Historic Denver is being criticized, as the Denver-based developer has had a long-history of supporting Historic Denver Inc. that predates the West Highland issue.
“The sponsorship and that development have absolutely nothing to do with each other,” said the person, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. “It is hard to imagine why the two are being linked to each other. It doesn’t make any sense. Why is this an issue?”
In addition to new apartment developments, such as the one planned in West Highland, RedPeak has restored a number of older historic building and has been praised for preserving and breathing new life into the 1600 Glenarm high-rise in the heart of downtown. RedPeak converted the former office tower into luxury apartments after it had sat vacant for years.
Some people who are concerned about development issues in other parts of Denver, and even in neighboring communities such as Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, have reached out to the No High Rise group, but Goode said she didn’t think if the lawsuit succeeds in stopping RedPeak’s current plans it would have a negative effect on other proposed projects.
For example, she noted that the highly publicized opposition to the proposed development at East 9th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard on the former University of Colorado Hospital campus is an anti-Walmart protest, not a zoning issue.
“We’re not an anti-development organization,” Goode said. “This is more of a legal-based situation. I have faith and hope in Denver that it has not instituted other corrupt zoning in other places. This zoning was a flaw and an error that we want to correct. I truly hope this is an anomaly. If Denver in other parts of the city behaved in a legal and ethical manner when they zoned property, than developers have nothing to worry about. If the zoning wasn’t done in an ethical and legal manner, than they do have cause for concern.”
Also, it is no easy task to create and organize a group like No High Rises, she said. It would have to be a “pretty egregious” development that would compel neighbors to devote all of the time, effort and money to mount an organized protest against a development like her group is doing in West Highland, Goode said.
To read the order from Judge Robert C. McGahey, please visit Order not to dismiss lawsuit