A proposal for a new “neighborhood center” for south Denver can proceed after the Denver City Council voted its approval on Monday night.
The decision came despite the opposition of the area’s councilman, and city leaders were once again placed in the center of a debate about sprawl, affordable housing and change along Colorado Boulevard.
Local developer Kentro Group has agreed to include at least 150 below-market apartments and 150,000 square feet of commercial space in a development at the former Colorado Department of Transportation headquarters at 4201 East Arkansas Ave. The project could include up to about 1,000 homes in total, depending on the market, according to Kentro co-founder Jimmy Balafas.
Kentro describes its plan as “a multi-phased pedestrian friendly, urban, mixed-use development with residential, commercial, and retail uses, and a variety of publicly accessible and usable open space.”
In an 11-1 vote, the council approved a rezoning that will allow “suburban mixed-use” at heights ranging from three to eight floors, with lower heights near the edges. Councilman Paul Kashmann was the sole dissenting vote. Councilman Albus Brooks was not present.
“We’ve got the right developer and we’ve got the right concept. For me, we’ve got the wrong zoning,” said Kashmann, whose district includes the sites, adding that the plan was too dense with too much traffic.
The site’s current “campus” zoning already allowed offices and housing up to 12 floors, but the rezoning allows retail and other adjustments.
The affordable units on the Arkansas site will be set aside for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income, or about $54,000 for a family of four. The units must stay affordable for at least 20 years.
The development is 300 feet east of Colorado Boulevard, and it’s near large office buildings, but it’s nestled among the single-family blocks of Virginia Village.
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“Our neighborhood is one of front lawns and quiet residential streets,” said resident Diane Wolta. “Yes, we all want cute retail shops and the affordable housing to be built, but this plan is too dense for the area.”
Florence Sebern noted that some of the property is marked as an “area of stability” in earlier city plans. But another resident, Kristin Jones, said that the housing crisis was already changing the area for the worse.
“To me, the character of the neighborhood that’s most worth preserving is diverse, welcoming and family friendly,” she said.
Kashmann has asked whether busy Colorado Boulevard can handle more traffic, with development potentially adding 10,000 vehicular trips per day under either zoning, according to a city report. A development agreement requires Kentro to work with the city on transportation plans, including bike and pedestrian connections.
“This site is primed to be a model project for different transportation solutions,” said Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore. “This, I see, is really the future of the city.”
A neighborhood group was neutral on the rezoning — and disbanded amid related drama — while about two-thirds of written comments to the city supported the change. Fifty-three people signed up to speak on Monday.
Kentro also hopes to build 170 to 190 market-rate homes at 2000 S. Holly St., about a mile southeast, saying they’ll aim for lower prices. The developer also has talked about affordable homes for seniors at that site, but hasn’t finalized that part of the plan, a representative said.
Both properties still are owned by CDOT. With the rezoning approved, Kentro is set to buy the land for $19.3 million in a deal arranged by the city of Denver. Balafas has said his plan will likely cost $100 million to develop.