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Vote supports 20-stories at St. Anthony's

What do you think? Take a poll on whether you support a 20-story tower at the end of this blog.

Highlights:

  • The Denver Planning Board is recommending approval of the GDP for St. Anthony’s site.
  • The meeting lasted more than four hours and drew about 90 people.
  • The City Council would need to approve zoning for tall buildings.
A drawing of what the West 16th Avenue Plaza at St. Anthony's could look like.

A drawing of what the West 16th Avenue Plaza at St. Anthony’s could look like.

The possibility of one or two 20-story buildings on a portion of the former St. Anthony’s Hospital campus across from Sloan’s Lake is moving forward.The height issue, as well as how much land should be designated as open space on one of Denver’s most massive redevelopments, has divided neighbors and organizations.

The Denver Planning Board, with one dissenting vote, decided to recommend approval for EFG-South Sloan’s Lake’s request for a General Development Plan following a marathon meeting Wednesday night, which was attended by about 90 people and drew about three dozen speakers, who spoke both in favor and against the plan.

“Planning for the redevelopment of a site as complex, and important, as St. Anthony’s is a long and sometimes contentious process,” said Cameron R. Bertron, of EFG-South Lake, whose parent is Denver-based EnviroFinance Group, or EFG.

A city committee will consider the Planning Board’s recommendation in January.

If the GDP is approved by the committee, it does not change the zoning of the land that is north of West Colfax Avenue and south of Sloan’s Lake, the second biggest park and the largest lake in Denver.

However, if the GDP is, as expected, is approved, a developer who wanted to build a 20-story building near the middle of the site along West 17th Avenue, across from the site, would need to ask City Council for the zoning change.

The GDP does not change the zoning, which currently allows a maximum of five-story buildings. Rather, the GDP provides a “framework” for different zoning.

No plans for a 20-story building are on the table at this time, Bertron said.

EFG removed the asbestos from the former hospital building that it razed and will sell parcels to other developers for a wide-mix of housing units, retail and office uses.

As many as 1,750 housing units can be built on the property, but EFG expects it is more likely that it ultimately will have 800 to about 1,200 units. It would be a combination for sale and rental properties, as well as number of retailers and other commercial space.

The Planning Board meeting culminated about 40 various meeting that EFG has had with neighbors.

“Approval of the GDP is an important step along the way to seeing the site responsibly redeveloped and we look forward to the coming year when the site planning process will make way for infrastructure construction and plans for new residential and commercial developments,” Bertron said.

Some citizens at the meeting said that EFG has been totally transparent and sensitive to concerns such as the height of buildings, while other said it ignored a St. Anthony’s Task Force from 2006, which they said did not envision such tall buildings, although it did not specify height or square footage.

Some people don’t mind the tall buildings, but wants them built closer to Colfax, rather than across from Sloan’s Lake.

Bertron said if the tallest building were near Colfax, shadows would fall on neighboring homes. By having the biggest buildings across from Sloan’s Lake, most of the shadows will fall on the park, he aid.

Larry Ambrose, one of the more public opponents of EFG’s plan, said he wasn’t surprised by the board’s recommendation.

“I knew this development was being supported by the highest level of the (Mayor) Hancock administration from the outset,” said Ambrose, who participated in the task force plan and is vice president of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, which opposes the plan.

“And it was obvious that the Planning Board had their minds made up as most of them were playing with their IPhones and IPads when those who were opposed were testifying,” Ambrose contended.

He said “Denver has lost is bearings,” based on actions by Hancock’s administration, the mayor’s planning board appointees and City Council members Jeanne Robb and Susan Shepherd, who attended the four hour-plus meeting.

The much larger West Colfax Association of Neighbors, however, supports EFG’s plan.

Chad Reischl, said EFG’s plan has the potential to make the former hospital site “one of Denver’s best neighborhoods,” that will prove to be a for the creative class of young professionals and families.

Shepherd, whose District One includes St. Anthony’s, said she was thrilled by the number of people who attended the meeting and the thoughtfulness and passion of people who spoke both for and against EFG’s plans.

A rendering of what the West 17th Avenue portion of the St. Anthony's redevelopment could look like.

A rendering of what the West 17th Avenue portion of the St. Anthony’s redevelopment could look like.

“I thought it was spectacular,” Shepherd said. “It was a really thoughtful and intelligent discussion on a number of really complex issues.”

She said it would be inappropriate for her to discuss whether she supports 20-story buildings, as the council serves a “quasi-judicial” role if it receives a specific proposal from a developer.

Asked whether she supported the planning board’s recommendation, she said that the board has to make a decision based on very specific and narrow criteria, “while the City Council can go above and beyond what they have to consider. The council can look at things well beyond their scope, such as social factors.”

The other big issue at the meeting, which has also resulted in heated debates, is whether EFG needs to provide 10 percent of the gross 22.5-acre site or one tenth of the net site, which equates to 14.07 acres. The net is minus the right of ways, such as new sidewalks and streets.

In other words, EFG would need about 2.5 acres of open space using the gross acres, and about 1.4 acres using the net size.

EFG plans to connect the grid from Colfax to the 17th Avenue border, which previously had been blocked by the hospital, dramatically increasing the number of streets and sidewalks in the development.

Historically, open space has almost always been based on the net acreage, because that is the only land that can be developed, said Caryn Champine, a Community Planning and Development supervisor.

The planning department is proposing the council approval language that would clarify the 10 percent open space requirement be based on net acreage, not gross acreage.

There have been 17 GDPs since 2002. Of those, two did not aggregate open space, so the GDP open space rules did not apply. Three of them also had open space requirements from other agreements, which were greater than the zoning code’s requirements.

Ten of the applicants for GDP were required to provide open space based on the net acreage while two based their calculation on the gross size. Why the two agreed to base it on the gross acreage is unclear, but it was not required by the city, Champine said.

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

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

Architect Niccolo Casewit, who lives in the Barnum neighborhood, said by using the net instead of the gross, the redevelopment will be 44 percent streets and 5.6 percent open space.

He said that having seven times as many streets as open space is not green.

“Denver makes a mockery of planning and will give density a bad name,” Casewit said.

Ambrose also opposed using net acreage to determine open space and said the planning board is usurping the City Council’s legislative powers by making a decision before the council takes up the measure in February.

“I spoke with Mayor Hancock personally last month regarding the folly of allowing less rather than more open space in new large scale developments,” Ambrose said.

“Michael B. Hancock’s legacy will be as the ”Anti-Open Space  Mayor,” Ambrose contended.

However, Kenneth Ho, chairman of the Planning Board, said the board is not trying to “cover its tracks” or “pull the wool over anybody’s eyes,” by requiring open space  based on the net size of the property.

Rather, the board is “clarifying the actual intent how the 10 percent has been interpreted over time,” Ho said.

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