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Key St. A's plan on tap today

Highlights:

  • Planning meeting on former St. Antony’s campus starts at 3 p.m. today.
  • Plan by EFG has divided neighborhood.
  •  20-story building could ultimately rise near Sloan’s Lake.

Preliminary plan for the former St. Anthony's campus by Sloan's Lake.

 

A plan that could pave the way for up to 20-story tall buildings on a portion of the former St. Anthony’s Hospital site by Sloan’s Lake will be taken under consideration today.

The Denver Planning Board meeting regarding one of the largest and most controversial developments moving forward in Denver begins at 3 p.m. at the Webb Municipal Office Building at 201 W. Colfax Ave. in Room 4.F.6/4.G.2.

The planning staff has recommended approval of the General Development Plan, or GDP, submitted by the owner of the property, Denver-based EnviroFinance Group.

EFG has demolished most of the former hospital and plans to sell parcels on the site that is north of West Colfax Avenue and south of Sloan’s Lakes to developers that would actually construct buildings on the site. EFG removed all of the asbestos from the former hospital building and is clearing the site for development.

Sloan’s Lake is the second largest park in the city and the largest lake in Denver. Ultimately, the redevelopment could include as many as 1,740 new housing units, but EFG says 800 to 1,200 is more likely.

Demolition on the site is “drawing to a close this month,” according to Cameron R. Berton, a senior vice president at EFG.

He summed up the GDP this way:

  • It lays out a framework for a new sustainable urban neighborhood that capitalizes on its proximity to public transit and the Sloan’s Lake neighborhoods;
  • Brings new neighborhood-serving retail;
  • Provides a mix of market-rate, affordable, for rent and for sale options;
  • And will serve as a catalyst for reinvestment and rejuvenation for the entire West Colfax corridor.

Buildings from 12 to 20 stories would create a focal point for the neighborhood and take advantage of view of the mountains and the city, according to EFG.

An idea of what the West 16th Avenue Plaza could look like.

An idea of what the West 16th Avenue Plaza could look like.

Berton said the tallest buildings are proposed to be closest to the lake, instead of along Colfax, so shadow are not cast over nearby homes. Instead, most of the shadows from the tall buildings would fall on the park.

The GDP does not change the zoning, which currently allows a maximum of five-story buildings. If the GDP is approved for 20-story building or buildings, a developer seeking such a tall building would need approval from the City Council.

The plan for up to 20-story buildings along West 17th Avenue, in the middle of the campus and across from the lake, has divided neighbors.

A 101-page planning document contains dozens of letters both for and against the plan, most of them from people who live near the site. About 60 percent of the letters are in favor of EFG’s plan.

Those who wrote letters in favor include two rabbis and prominent developer Dana Crawford.

A number of people who have publicly voiced opposition to the plan, however, did not have letters in the South Sloan Lake (St. Anthony’s) General Development Plan document.

For example, there is not a letter in the document from Larry Ambrose, one of the most vocal opponents to EFG’s plan,. Ambrose is president of Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and the vice president of Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, which is opposing the plan.

The West Highland Neighborhood Association, which previously opposed three, five-story apartment buildings near West 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, also are opposing EFG’s plans. A number of people who are members of the No High Rises in West Highland also are opposing the current Sloan’s Lake proposals. That grassroots group was formed to fight the apartment plans in their neighborhood by RedPeak Properties. Ten of the West Highland Neighbors took that to court and lost.

The 550-member West Colfax Association of Neighbors, which has more members than the WHNA and the SLNA combined, however, supports EFG’s plan.

“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 Rischl and Ben Stetler, co-president WeCAN, wrote in a letter to the Community Planning and Development Department.

West 17th Avenue Streetscape.

West 17th Avenue Streetscape.

Rabbis Mayer J. Schwab and Chaim Sher also voiced their support for EFG’s plan.

“It is a plan that is both supportive of the community as well as the recommendations set forth in the St. Anthony’s Redevelopment Task Force and the West Colfax Neighborhood,” according to Schwab, dean of the Beth Jacob High School of Denver at 5100 W. 14th Ave.

Trendy retailers wanted

He said he would like to see a Trader Joe’s or a Sprouts type of retailer to anchor the Raleigh Street commercial area of the campus.

“They carry many kosher foods and items that our community needs and would want,” he wrote.

Sher, program director for Merkaz Torah v’Chesed, agreed the plan is supportive of the community and the recommendations in the two previous guiding plans hammered out about a half dozen years ago when Rick Garcia was the City Councilman who represented the area.

Others couldn’t disagree more.

Mordechai Kadovitz, whose family has lived in the Sloan’s Lake area for the past half century, said it would be “morally wrong” to allow EFG’s proposal for up to 20-story buildings across from the park, when  previous plans forged by Garcia in 2006 with neighborhood input called for the tallest buildings to be close to Colfax, with low-rise buildings near the lake.

“Unlike the schism and contention that we have seen with the 32nd and Lowell/Red Peak project, the community was asked and conceived the vision and plan and did so harmonious,” according to Kadovitz.

However, Feivel Gallard, who has lived in the area for the past 22 years, said he believes most people in the area support EFG’s plan.

“With the exception of a few, lonely voices the response I have received from neighbors, friends and associates has been overwhelmingly positive,” he wrote to the planning board.

He called EFG’s plan “long, long over due” and said he has been impressed by the quality of its team.

“I have personally met with the developers and find them to be men of integrity, open to hear and respond to input from their neighbors,” Gallard wrote.

Crawford likes the plan

Dana Crawford, a long-time historic preservationists, has been buying, renovating and selling properties in the nearby Villa Park and West Colfax neighborhoods for years along with fellow developer Win King and health care professional Carol Maclennan.

“From an economic perspective, we believe the project will be a catalyst that sparks other revitalizing investment the West Colfax corridor,” they wrote to the planning board.

Others have criticized that tax increment financing has been in place on the site for years to help with the cost of infrastructure.

Raleigh Streetscape.

Raleigh Streetscape.

Marie Benedix, who actively opposed RedPeak’s plan, described the TIF as a “waste of taxpayer money and will be a burden on our schools. police , fire department centers etc.,” on the Nextdoor social media site for West Highland.

“Through a special deal with the City, none of the taxes paid by residents in the new development will go towards schools, police, fire departments etc.,” she wrote. “That is 3,500 new residents and no added funds to schools. Guess who pays? You and me.”

She and a number of others also criticized plans that would require EFG to provide 10 percent of the net land for open space, instead of 10 percent of the gross loan.

Open space an issue

The entire site has 25.22 acres, but when the new roadways and sidewalks are removed from the equation, it would have 14.07 acres. That means EFG would have to provide about 1.4 acres of total, private open space, as opposed to about 2.5 acres.

Bendedix described that as the “last straw.”

But she indicated the approval may be a fait accompli.

“Sadly, the City looks hell bent to go along with this plan, for reasons we can’t understand,”she wrote.

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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.