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Landmark approves church connection

Highlights:

  • Former RedPeak plan is adopted by Alliance Residential.
  • Construction likely will start in October.
  • Alliance will develop two 5-story and one 4-story building in West Highland.
A look at how RNL Design is connecting the Beth Eden church with a new luxury building by Alliance.

A look at how RNL Design is connecting the Beth Eden church with a new luxury building by Alliance.

The Landmark Preservation Commission on Tuesday enthusiastically and unanimously approved an application to connect a historic church building in northwest Denver to a new, yet-to-be-built luxury apartment building, paving the way for construction to begin this fall.

Phoenix-based Alliance Residential is expected to start construction of three new luxury buildings in October, adopting a plan previously proposed by Denver-based RedPeak Properties.

The new development would include a 5-story building on Lowell Boulevard and a 5-story building on Meade Street, but a 4-story building on West Moncrieff Place, north of West 32nd Avenue, in the Highlands Square area of West Highland, just as RedPeak planned.

The Lowell building would be connected to the former Beth Eden Church, which has been vacant for about two years.

“This building needs a little love,” said planner Savannah Jameson. “That is what we are trying to give it today.”

A group headed by Tom Wootten bought the church and two surrounding parcels in 2011 and is selling them to Alliance.

“We thought long and hard about this,” since addressing the Landmark Commission and the City Council in the spring, when the church building was granted historic designation, Wootten told commission members.

“We really understood very clearly that people liked the architecture of the building and wanted to see it incorporated into a really vibrant redevelopment of the site; they really wanted to see it put back into a viable use,” he said.

Wootten said he kept coming back to the plans that RNL Design had done for RedPeak. RedPeak pulled out of the project following a zoning trial, in which 10 neighbors unsuccessfully tried to convince a District Court judge that the current U-MS-5 zoning is a violation of Blueprint Denver.

However, even before the trial, RedPeak had voluntarily agreed to lower the height on Moncrieff to four stories, even though U-MS-5 allows five-stories. That site plan for two 5-story and one 4-story building previously been approved by the city and Allied is keeping it.

The idea to physically connect the church to a new building was so strong that Historic Denver did not even feel the need to seek Landmark designation for the church when RedPeak first proposed it, Wootten noted.

“It really is in the spirit of your guidelines,” Wootten said. “It really was what everyone was looking for.”

Historic Denver in the latest go-around, did support historic designation for the church, constructed in 1931. Wootten sought non-historic status of the church, although he always wanted to incorporate it into any future redevelopment. A historic designation is considered a burden by many developers, he said earlier.

Historic Denver always believed “old and new” buildings could be connected in a respectful way, said John Olson, head of preservation efforts for the nonprofit group.

“I think going forward, this is the case,” he said about the Wootten application that Historic Denver supports.

The “defining characters” of the former church, such as the steeply pitched roof and window areas are being retained, he noted.

“We are excited to see this go forward,” Olson said.

“I know the new building is not under your purview,” Olson said, while looking at a RNL drawing of the connected buildings, “but we always felt the new building can be influenced by the new building and that is the case,” with the portrayed connection.

He said he hopes the building materials in the new building complement the materials in the historic one.

David Carnicelli, a senior architect for RNL, said they have not changed the design since RedPeak was its client, even though the building had not been designated as a historic building at that time.

“We treated it in such as way that was very respectful to the design,” and historic character of the church building, he said.

He said Alliance will use the upper part of the church building as a community room and as “amenity space” for residents in the three new buildings, while it likely will put retail or a restaurant on the first floor.

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd met earlier with the team at Alliance. She had known Alliance was buying the properties for about 30 days.

“I pushed them really hard to consider good retail amenities that will support the neighborhood,” Shepherd said. “They told me they were open to putting a restaurant in on the first floor.”

Shepherd also said that she asked Alliance officials if they had any unused parking spaces, “If they would consider adding them to the inventory out there for the public.”

She said Alliance officials said they would consider it, although she’s not sure how thrilled they are about the idea.

Architect Douglas Walter, who is a Landmark commissioner, said he likes how the connection is “subservient” to the two buildings and that the church is lowered to the street grade.

“I think this is a nice project,” Walter said.

Martin Goldstein, chairman of the commission, agreed.

“I think they did a really good job of retaining the historic character,” he said.

Shepherd said the commission’s blessing is a good sign.

“I’m certainly encouraged that they think they are on the right track,” she said.

She said only one thing surprised her — no one from the neighborhood attended the meeting.

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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.