During a meeting about the future of east Denver last week, a committee’s objective to help craft a plan across four neighborhoods seemed to hang on a question it will continue to grapple with as the plan takes shape: How much change is too much change?
The process is part of the effort to develop neighborhood plans for the entire city.
The East Area Plan includes East Colfax, Hale, Montclair and South Park Hill, which is a mixture of suburban residences and the busiest, most famous corridor in the city. The 4.55-square-mile area currently has 15,434 housing units and a population of just over 31,000 people, according to the city.
Thursday’s meeting was the 13th since the process was launched last summer, and was led by senior city planner Liz Weigle and principal city planner Curt Upton. Weigle said they’re essentially in the middle of the plan; they still need to reach out to the community once again in the form of public meetings.
The meeting Thursday included a review of drafts for vision statements for the plan, but it was a discussion about the guiding principles were steering committee members had the most to say.
The plan is purposefully ambitious — Upton said it should end up sounding like utopia.
“Remember that our planning horizon is 2040,” Upton said, “so it’s a little over 20 years from today.”
Upton said community discussions have identified the desire for more job opportunities, businesses and services in the area co-existing with residential neighborhoods. The ideas were presented as scenarios for the committee to consider.
Most committee members seemed interested in more mixed-use buildings in the area, which would provide housing options and business opportunities.
It’s pretty clear though, that the hardest part of the plan — like almost every other Denver neighborhood plan — will be finding a balance.
“There was people who said, ‘You know, I love the businesses, I want more mixed-use development, I love the close proximity to commercial areas and all the amenities that these things bring, I more of that,” Upton said. The competing thought was people who liked the quiet, residential feel of the neighborhood.”
Tracey MacDermott, of Greater Park Hill Community Inc, was the most vocal opponent of some of some suggestions made about additional development. She said some of the ideas being proposed could change neighborhood characteristics.
She feels like the potential for added development will end up encroaching on some of the things she values most about her neighborhood, like her backyard.
“I feel like this entire thing is going to come with more density,” McDermott said, adding some of these changes would prompt her to leave the city. “We’re losing our neighborhood with this kind of chatter … we don’t have to change our neighborhood to make good things on Colfax.”
Committee member Andy Sense, of Park Hill, said he was open to a neighborhood that was more active, like bringing in more events that reflect the city’s overall vibrancy and the kind of element that he said brought him to Denver. This kind of thing would also encourage more diversity in the kind of businesses that are interested in opening up shop.
He had some thoughts about preserving some of the neighborhood’s characteristics, which was part of one of the draft vision statements for the overall plan.
“One way to kind of protect the buildings and also recognize the need for more housing would be to maybe change, maybe we could say something about large, old houses can be, are allowed to get converted to multi-family housing or something like that,” Sense said.
There was an agreement about bringing more businesses that are compatible with their plans, including ones that contribute to the walkability of the neighborhood and limiting vehicle traffic.
There are also the things the community hopes aren’t part of their future.
Those include adult entertainment places like strip clubs, pot shops and used car lots, which they say dot East Colfax.
“It’s not as conducive for a family environment,” said Tom Fesing, of East Colfax Neighborhood Association.
Hilarie Portell, of Colfax Mayfair Business Improvement District, said it “bugs” her to see more car parts stores, mattress stores and the private emergency rooms, which she said doesn’t seem to fit the kind of future Colfax is headed to as a provider of community-based services.
“Realistically, we’ll have some of them, we’ll have some national chains,” Portell said. “I guess we could be thinking more about a full mix of business types. I mean Colfax is a major corridor. Some of those uses will stay.”
Of course, they also outlined potential negative impact from the added development, including more noise from bars or nightclubs, the loss of development aimed specifically for attracting families and loss of on-street parking. It could also drive up costs for businesses, which could drive out current mainstays in the neighborhood.
The committee still has a lot of work ahead of them. Weigle said a final draft of the area plan should be submitted by mid-2019 and would involve bringing it to the Denver City Council.
“There’s still plenty of time for people to get involved and we’ll have additional public outreach events,” Weigle said.
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