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Donahue's ethic complaint dismissed

Highlights:

  • Denver Ethics Board rules on conflict charge.
  • Former City Council President filed charge against Brad Buchanan.
  • Dismissed charged involved the St. Anthony’s campus by Sloan’s Lake.
This photo was taken in early October of the demolition of the former St. Anthony's Hospital.

This photo was taken in early October of the demolition of the former St. Anthony’s Hospital.

An ethics complaint filed by former City Councilwoman Cathy Donahue against architect and former Denver Planning Board chairman Brad Buchanan was dismissed on Thursday.

Donahue, who was the first female council president in Denver, on Oct. 31 filed a complaint with the city’s Ethic Board, contending that Buchanan should not be allowed to present testimony or information before the Denver Planning Board, prior to Feb. 14, 2014.

Buchanan is a principal of the architectural firm RNL, which has been retained by EnviroFinanceGroup, or EFG, for the redevelopment of the former St. Anthony’s campus at Sloan’s Lake.

Donahue, who was on the council from 1975 to 1994, based her complaint on a portion of the city’s Ethic Code that says: “During six months following termination of office or employment, no former officer, official, or employee shall obtain employment in which he or she will take direct advantage, unavailable to others, of matters with which he or she took direct official action during his or her service with the City.”

Buchanan stepped down from the planning board on June 30. He also served on a task force that helped overhaul the city’s zoning code that was adopted by the council in June 2010.

“The weight of Mr. Buchanan’s and RNL’s influence on the decision-making process of the Denver Planning Board so soon after his departure as Chair could affect the fairness of the hearing… and severely prejudice the outcome of the proceedings,” according to Donahue’s complaint.

Brad Buchanan

Brad Buchanan

Buchanan said the dismissal of the complaint was the correct decision.

Highest ethical standards

“We trusted the process, we fully supported the process and it was successful in that it dismissed the complaint as being without merit at the earlier point possible in the process,” Buchanan said late Thursday afternoon.

Buchanan indicated he violated neither the letter nor the spirit of the law.

“I have always and will continue to practice at the highest ethical standard,” Buchanan said. “The ethics board found that to be the case in this situation as well.”

Politics as usual?

Donahue, a longtime resident of Capitol Hill, had not read the decision on Thursday, but said she expected the outcome, describing it as politics as usual.

“It sounds like they didn’t rule against me, but in favor of Buchanan,” Donahue said.

“I have watched this happen for 50 years now,” Donahue said. “It used to be that all the big real estate developers, the big landowners and all the big name construction people would be on the boards and all of their projects would be approved.”

She compared Buchanan’s involvement at St. Anthony’s to when former Denver billionaire Marvin Davis wanted to build a new convention center behind Union Station in the 1980s. That project never got off the ground when funding for it was rejected by voters.

“Marvin Davis was Mayor Federico Peña’s best friend,” she said. “The St. Anthony’s project is the biggest project we have seen in years. It is a big, big project. You have to expect some density on a hospital site, but Sloan’s Lake is a one-story neighborhood. Someone has to stand up to these big developers and maybe it is an itty-bitty person like me.”

Cathy Donohue speaking at a city meeting.

Cathy Donohue speaking at a city meeting.

On June 26, Buchanan, as a spokesman for RNL, spoke at a public meeting regarding the General Development Plan (GDP) for St. Anthony’s redevelopment held at the Confluence Ministries at 1400 Quitman St.

Buchanan recused himself

However, the meeting was neither sponsored nor hosted by the planning board and there was no planning board involvement in that meeting, one of more than 50 held on the redevelopment of St. Anthony’s, according to the ethics board.

On June 19, Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, made an informational presentation to the planning board regarding the St. Anthony’s site, which is eligible for tax increment financing.

Buchanan recused himself from that meeting and left the table during the presentation.

The Ethics Board “finds that Mr. Buchanan took no direct official action relating to the project while on the Planning Board…Because Mr. Buchanan recused himself at the June 19, 2013 Planning meeting (where this was an informational item), there is also no evidence that Mr. Buchanan took direct advantage, unavailable to others, relating to this project due to his Planning Board membership.”

Key date on development in December

The planning board is scheduled to consider approval of the GDP on Dec. 18. Buchanan does not plan to be a “presenter or spokesperson for the project at this meeting,” according the ethics board.

The GDP is a framework for the development and is not zoning. The zoning, however, would ultimately be changed to reflect the GDP.

A look at possible heights as the St. Anthony's is developed over many years.

A look at possible heights as the St. Anthony’s is developed over many years.

Besides Donahue, some neighborhood groups and citizens oppose the EFG plan that calls for as much as 2.1 million square feet of mixed-uses, including up to 1,815 housing units, on the 23.4-acre site roughly bordered by West Colfax Avenue, West 17th Avenue, and Stuart and Perry Streets.

The EFG plan, which would create a grid pattern by connecting streets, also calls for up to 20-story buildings on a portion of the site. The parcel currently is zoned for five-story buildings.

EFG would not develop the buildings itself, but would sell land to developers.

The Ethics Board also said that Buchanan’s “general experience on the Planning Board or the Zoning Code Task Force does not disqualify him from working on the St. Anthony’s project for RNL.”

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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.