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Reischl: EFG gets it right at St. Anthony's

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 Are you on Team Chad or Team Larry. Vote at the end of this blog.

Highlights:

  • Chad Reischl likes EFG’s plan near Sloan’s Lake.
  • Retail follows rooftops.
  • Tall buildings already are near St. Anthony’s site.

By Chad Reischl

Special to InsideRealEstateNews.com

Chad Reischl

Chad Reischl

Envirofinance Group has been highly transparent regarding the development and development process of the former St. Anthony Hospital campus next to Sloan’s Lake.

That pattern continued when EFG and the City of Denver held a public meeting regarding the St Anthony’s General Development Plan. or GDP, on Wednesday, June 26.

The meeting consisted of a presentation and break-out sessions for public comment. This same plan had been presented to a general meeting of the West Colfax Neighborhood Association (WeCAN) on June 11.

The plan has been under development for over a year and EFG has met with WeCAN at every step of the way.

Given how open EFG has been, we were not surprised to see the content of the final GDP at the meeting.

Consequently WeCAN is highly supportive of the plan.

The former St. Anthony’s campus provides the best opportunity for growth and redevelopment of the West Colfax community.

Much like East Colfax once was, West Colfax is littered with less than desirable commercial buildings and enterprises (some of which have sat vacant for years) and large parking lots.

The neighborhood surrounding West Colfax has typically been a lower income neighborhood.

However, given the high-quality of its older housing stock, the proximity to downtown, new mass-transit options and the changing needs/desires of young professionals, the demographics are shifting tremendously; young couples (often with families) are moving in and creating an exciting mixed-income neighborhood. Now we’d like to see a mix of uses.

In urban planning/development theory “retail follows rooftops.”  in other words, until a reasonable density of residents is reached, retail operations (such as coffee shops, restaurants, small stores, etc.) will not locate in an area.

This commercial transformation is happening on East Colfax thanks to the redevelopment around City Park and new apartment/condo buildings on and around East Colfax.

The redevelopment of St Anthony’s provides West Colfax with the best opportunity for that same sort of re-investment on our side of town. WeCAN is eagerly awaiting this type of catalytic development in our neighborhood.

An early rendering of what a portion of the redeveloped St. Anthony's campus could look like.

A conceptual rendering of what a portion of the redeveloped St. Anthony’s campus could look like.

In 2005 when St. Anthony’s Hospital decided to leave their location, they set up a community task force to determine the best use for the site.

Several of those who served on the task force are members of our organization.

This plan (published in 2006) and the West Colfax Plan (adopted by the city in 2006) served as a guide for EFG in their process. The EFG plan holds true to many of the recommendations laid forth in that plan such as:

  • Creating a town center with a mix of uses.
  • Encouraging a strong urban edge along 17th to help define the park.
  • Reintegrating the street grid.
  • Creating a pedestrian friendly environment that is safe for all neighborhood residents including children and seniors.
  • Creating a sustainable, energy efficient, environmentally friendly development.
  • Defining space for civic and community uses (in this case, two public plazas along 17th Street, a public plaza at 16th Street between Raleigh and Stuart Street and the ability to close off the remainder 16th Street for festival events).
  • Including strategies to ensure  ontinued maintenance of public amenities within the development.

Much of the opposition to this plan comes in the form of building heights.

Sadly, neither plan is very prescriptive when it comes to building heights on the site. The plans suggest a tiered approach to development, with smaller structures on the sides facing residences and potentially taller structures in center of the development.

Currently the entire site is zoned for five stories and there is nothing in the GDP that actually calls for an official rezoning of the property.

The GDP simply suggests heights that EFG feels the market may one day be able to bear. Whether the heights listed in the GDP are appropriate for the site are likely up for debate, but as a trained urban planning professional, I believe there are several arguments that support the heights suggested in the GDP.

  • There is already a 16-story senior high-rise immediately adjacent to the site, another similar building 16-story eight blocks to the east and an 8-story medical office building three blocks to the east, so taller buildings would not be entirely out of character on the site.
  • Any developer who wishes to build higher than five stories will have to go through a zoning change process, which the community will have a right to comment on.
  • There are any number of beautiful, well-used and beloved parks around the country that have tall buildings right next to them (Central Park NY, Lafayette Park in Francisco, Millennium Park in Chicago, Cheesman and Commons Park here in Denver to name a few). If these parks are any precedent, tall buildings along 17th will not destroy Sloan’s Lake Park (although it may significantly change the view from the plan’s biggest opponent’s property.)
  • Having taller buildings right along 17th will create a strong local landmark along 17th St and and a visual cue that will draw visitors into the development from busy Sheridan Boulevard across the lake.
  • Creating a strong street wall along 17th will help slow traffic along this section of the street. It’s been shown time and time again that increased building enclosure along a street slows traffic. With increased foot traffic between the development and the park across the street, we want to do our best to insure that traffic is calmed along this section of street so as not to increase auto-pedestrian accidents. Eliminating major setbacks along the street and building taller is an easy way to do this that doesn’t cost the city any money.
  • Shadow studies undertaken by the developers show little impact to local residents and park users from larger buildings at the center of this three block wide site.

The GDP, as it stands, is a good document from which to develop the former St Anthony’s site.

The planning process has been open and transparent, and over the last year hundreds of people from the neighborhood have provided feedback on the plan. Furthermore it holds true to the basic tenets laid down in previous planning efforts. It can be argued that the plan strays from these documents in a few places, but much has changed in the seven years since adoption and that some change in any planning process is inevitable.

WeCAN represents the needs and desires of the residents and business owners in the Denver’s West Colfax Neighborhood.

Our organization currently has more than 550 registered members and is dedicated to creating a healthy, safe and sustainable community in West Colfax.

We feel that this plan greatly strengthens our neighborhood by creating a new center of commercial activity, adding additional mixed-income housing and providing public space. We feel that the project will be catalytic for redevelopment of West Colfax and we look forward to the day when this plan is fully implemented.

Chad Reischl is a big fan of EFG's plan for the St. Anthony's site. Larry Ambrose isn't. They can't both be right. Who do you support?

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Chad Reischl, who has a master’s degree in urban planning, is the co-president of the West Colfax Neighborhood Association. He can be reached at chadreischl@wecandenver.org.

Interested in buying a home in the Sloan’s Lake area? Please visit COhomefinder.com.

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at  JRCHOOK@gmail.com. InsideRealEstateNews.com is sponsored by Universal Lending, Land Title Guarantee and 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.