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Spirited debate on former St. Anthony's campus

Highlights:

  • Neighborhood meeting on future of former hospital campus.
  • St. Anthony’s could be zoned for one or two 20-story buildings.
  • Some neighbors think it is too dense.
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Much of what was St. Anthony’s Hospital is now rubble.

A spirited but civil discussion of a wide spectrum of issues revolving around the redevelopment of the campus around the former St. Anthony’s Hospital by Sloan’s Lake drew about 100 people and stretched for more than two hours on Tuesday night.

Opposition to future decisions that could pave the way for one or two 20-story buildings and not enough open space under the current proposal, were once again aired by a number of about a dozen people who asked questions and made statements to Cameron Berton, a senior vice president of development for the EFG-Sloan’s Lake, the Denver company that currently has razed most of the buildings on the site that is anchored on the south by West Colfax Avenue and the largest lake in Denver on the north.

Others spoke in favor of the proposal, with one neighbor, architect Gosia Kung, even going as far as saying she not only has no problem with the potential height, but would like there to be a minimum density amount on the site, which is expected to have 800 to 1,200 housing units and thousands of new renters and owners, as the 25-acre site is developed.

Another speaker, however, said he believed the developer was displaying a “need for greed” at the expense of the neighborhood that would make a few people rich “on the backs of the middle class.”

While applause broke out on occasions, especially when audience members spoke against 20-story buildings or the desire for more open space, no one was shouted down or publicly criticized for taking an opposing viewpoint.

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

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

“Nobody even thought about 20-story buildings,” when a plan was hammered out in 2006 to guide the redevelopment, said Larry Ambrose, president of Denver’s Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and vice president of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, which is opposing the current plan.

Ambrose handed out a flyer with eight bullet points highlighting why he thinks the current plan is flawed and neither adheres to the letter nor the spirit of previous discussions for the plan.

Another person, who owns investment properties south of Colfax, however, said he wholeheartedly supports the plan, which he said will be a huge catalyst for the revitalization of West Colfax.

He noted that similarly tall buildings along City Park South have revitalized East Colfax Avenue.

City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who represents the district, said that she is in a “listening mode,” and is not going to take a position on heights at this time.

And if a developer at some point seeks zoning for a 12 or 20-story building, she said she and other council members will be in a “quasi-judicial position,” and be unable to comment on the plans before a vote.

Shepherd, however, said that a “certain amount of density will be required,” to attract the kind of retailers the neighborhood wants and needs.

For example, she said a number of people have told her they would love to see a Trader’s Joe open there, which will require a certain amount of density, although she said she doesn’t know how much.

Bertron emphasized several times that neither EFG-Sloan’s Lake, nor its parent, EnviroFinance Group, will build a 20-story building, even if it is allowed.

Indeed, it is simply preparing the land for development and will not construct any buildings on the site.

EFG is proposing that taller buildings could be allowed along West 17th Avenue, across from Sloan’s Lake, so that the proper infrastructure is installed and enough density will be there if the market can accommodate tall buildings.

In other word, EFG wants to keep its options open.St.Anthony's

A number of people, including Michael Kadovitz, asked why the taller buildings would be directly across from Sloan’s Lake, instead of closer to Colfax.

Berton said it is a matter of “shade and shadows.”

If the tallest buildings were built a block to the north, for example, he said they would cast shadows across nearby homes.

But by placing the tallest buildings on the north end, the shadows would fall on the lake, instead of on houses, he said.

Berton said EFG’s goal it to develop the land to pave the way for a “sustainable, walkable community. This will be a LEED-certified neighborhood. I believe this will be Denver’s first LEED-certified neighborhood.”
 He also said because the campus is walking distance from a light rail station on Perry Street, south of Colfax, the build-out could be considered a transit oriented development.

To help achieve their vision, he said they are working closely with developers who will buy the land that also buy into their vision. For example, he said the developers of Larimer Square are looking to turn the Kuhlman building on the property, which originally was a convent for Catholic nuns, into a boutique hotel.

The first buildings could be under construction at the end of 2014, Berton said.

And it is possible that a developer might construct buildings lower than zoning allows. For example, an apartment developer that has parcels under contract, plans to build four-to-five story buildings, although it could build taller buildings. While he did not identify the developer, reportedly it is Trammell Crow Residential.

EFG is reintroducing a grid with wider-than-typical roads from Colfax to Sloan’s Lake. The new right of way will reduce the amount of open space EFG has to provide, which along with the possibility of 20-story building is a hot-button issue with opponents of the current idea.

Ambrose, and others, for example, said that the 10 percent open space requirement should be based on the gross acres and not the net acres, which would require about 2.5 acres of open space instead of about 1.6 acres.

Historically, when the city required open space, it typically based it on net acres, although on occasions it has based it on gross acres.

The planning department is seeking to make all future open space requirements based on net acres.

Architect Niccolo Casewit said it is a mistake to build wide roads. Instead, he said roads should be narrower. He also said the roads would be the shortest blocks in Denver.

“More roads means less open space,” he said.

He said based on “street density,” EFG’s current plan, if it gets a greenlight, would be more dense than Manhattan icons such as the Rockefeller Center.

The next step in the process is that at 3 p.m. on Dec. 18, the Denver Planning Board will consider a General Development plan in the Webb Building at 201 W. Colfax Avenue.

The General Development Plan, or the GDP, is a framework for the future development.

The board has a wide range of options as far the GDP, from recommending approval a recommendation of rejecting it, or it could seek to fine-tune or postpone any action.

If it does recommend approval, the Development Review Committee will make an administrative decision whether to approve it. The committee includes the head of a number of Denver departments including Community Planning and Development, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Zoning, the Denver Fire Department and Denver Water.

If the committee does approve the GDP, and it would allow two 20-story buildings, for example, the land would not immediately be zoned for such tall buildings.

The City Council would make that decision, but not until a developer came forward with a zoning request to build such a tall building.

Interested in buying a home in the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood? 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.