Last month, representatives from the development company Opus Group presented a tentative plan for a five-story apartment building to the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. Their project would take up vacant warehouse space on the northeast block at the intersection of 13th Avenue and Osage Street that fits around the existing Domo Japanese Country Food restaurant.
While the group has yet to officially purchase the land, their vision for the block represents a departure from the luxury apartments people think of as the focus of Denver’s recent development boom. In the context of new expensive towers just across Speer Boulevard in the Golden Triangle area, the presentation seemed to bring something new to the table: apartments that developers say may be priced to the neighborhood’s median income — and two- and three-bedroom units for families.
La Alma-Lincoln Park has long been a place for families. As development interests in the neighborhood grow, advocates and city leaders are trying to influence builders to keep it that way.
There are three major projects that are reshaping La Alma-Lincoln Park’s northern reaches.
The La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association has been surveying local residents to find out exactly what they want to see happen as the neighborhood changes. Their meetings have become a place for developers to win grassroots approval before their projects move into more formal talks with the city.
In July, designers met with the neighborhood group to discuss plans for an eight-story building at 1225 Santa Fe Dr., which aims to offer affordable prices by providing very small apartments.
Another project, the Wellington Apartments on Osage Street at Colfax Avenue, is well on its way to completion. It’s an unusual development in that it will offer some “co-living” options, where some tenants will rent a bedroom and bathroom and then share community kitchen space and other amenities. It’s been reported that this project will also include single-family homes.
And then there’s the project at 13th and Osage. Opus senior vice president, Dean Newins, presented his company’s basic ideas for the effort, which could include more than 200 units ranging from micro studios to live/work lofts to three-bedroom apartments suitable for families, all priced at that median-income level for the area.
“As people build, it is critical that it’s not just one-bedrooms and studios,” said Denver City Councilman Paul López.
López grew up on Denver’s west side, which he said is where the city’s working-class families “have always called home.”
The neighborhood around Santa Fe Drive was once home to a melting pot of new arrivals arriving by train around the turn of the 20th century. In the ’50s, it shifted to become dense with Mexican-American families, and then a national hub for the Chicano movement in the 1970s. The Chicano presence, which drew heavily on arts and culture to define their movement, set the stage for the art district we know today and the interest to build in the neighborhood moving forward.
Renee Martinez Stone, director of the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative, told Denverite that 60 percent of households identify as families in the 9 residential neighborhoods her organization focuses on. Because 70 percent of households in those neighborhoods are considered “low income,” she said a lot of residents may not be able to absorb rising housing costs if luxury apartments begin to creep in.
“I’m not against density. Denver’s a grown-up city,” Councilman López said, “but you have to have it in a way that’s smart.”
He said he hopes that the neighborhood’s future is inclusive to single people and families and elders who have lived in the area for decades. His office can only “encourage folks” bringing new construction to the area to do so with the community in mind unless they need council approval to move forward.
“People come to my office with their visions and their plans,” he said. “If they want to have a meeting with me they have to hit our priorities.”
The project at 13th and Osage needs rezoning approval, and a representative from López’s office said their meetings with him influenced the plan that included a full range of unit types.
“There’s a market segment that’s not being filled” with all the expensive high rises going up nearby, Newins said, and aiming at the median-income range fills that niche. “This aligns with the guidance from the city,” he added.
Stella Yu, a member of the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, said she’s glad Newins and his team took time to speak to the group.
While she hopes the neighborhood remains a place for families, she said they “have been more concerned about homeownership.”
Yu said developers can’t just build three- or four-bedroom homes and expect a cohesive community to come out of it. She credits family-owned homes to the neighborhood’s stability over the last 20 years or so. Maintaining that balance would contribute to “long-term sustainability.”
Lopez, too, said La Alma-Lincolm Park needs more than extra units.
“You can’t just create housing and call it a community,” he said. Housing has to be connected to a local economy and neighbors need to be unified around a common vision; they need to feel “that they belong to the neighborhood.”