The green fields and stoic buildings of a shuttered school campus in Harvey Park are on track to become part of a walkable district of homes, businesses and gathering spaces, but some neighbors want to stall redevelopment, claiming the process is marred by conflicts of interest.
Members of the Loretto Heights Community Initiative (LHCI) want the city planning department to hit the brakes on a local blueprint for the area expected to shape the site’s future. The “small area plan” gets underway with a public meeting Tuesday night.
In a letter to City Councilman Kevin Flynn, the group of around 30 residents demanded “comprehensive cultural, historical, topographical, environmental and aesthetic assessment reports” before the process commences.
In a year-old document, the neighborhood group says it wants any redevelopment to maintain views and curb traffic impacts. Still, Jim Gibson, a spokesperson for the LHCI, told Denverite the group isn’t “trying to jump to any conclusions right now” about the developer’s intentions. “We want to make sure that the process is open, fair and transparent … and that there’s no taint in the process,” he said.
Gibson claims campaign donations and an internship have tainted things.
The group asked Flynn, whose district covers the campus, to return $3,000 in donations from campus owner Andrew Klein, his company Westside Property Investment and developer ACM High Point. Gibson and company called out a fourth donation worth $1,000 but Denverite could not confirm the donor’s role.
Flynn called the donations a “red herring” in an interview. “It’s not uncommon for campaign contributors to be involved in decisions you’re a part of.”
He won’t return the funds, citing several instances when he’s sided against donors with his vote. He voted against allowing the Grandoozy music festival, for example, despite promoter contributions to his campaign, Flynn said. Same with a no vote to increase drainage fees for a food project tied to I-70.
“What I’m saying is, I have no hesitation to vote against campaign contributor when it’s in the best community interest if District 2,” Flynn said.
Neighbors also made claims against Jason Morrison, the Denver Community Planning and Development planner heading the small area plan. They demanded he recuse himself because of ties to the Pachner Company, a consulting firm that now works with Westside.
Morrison worked for Pachner five years ago — as an intern — before Pachner worked with Westside, according to CPD. Residents did not file an official complaint, but Denver Board of Ethics executive director Michael Henry sees no conflict of interest.
“From the circumstances that the planner explained to me, there’s nothing that will violate the Denver code of ethics, particularly because it was such a long time ago,” Henry said. “And in addition, at least listening to the planner’s side of the story, he never worked for this particular owner in any way, shape or form for this particular project. So there’s really nothing that causes me any unofficial heartburn.”
Speak now or forever hold your peace… or anger.
A more urban Loretto Heights will require different zoning rules. And that’s one reason for a small area plan — without it, no vision for the campus exists beyond the developer’s wants and what current zoning allows.
“The planning process, particularly for something like this, is us wanting to get ahead of something that may happen,” said Alexandria Foster, a spokesperson for CPD. “It’s something that we want, and the community clearly wants this opportunity to shape what the area will be.”
Without a plan, the developer could proceed as he saw fit (within the constraints of current land use rules).
“Postponing the small area plan would be an unmitigated disaster for the future of this campus,” Flynn said. “It will actually permit what others are concerned about the most — proceeding with the redevelopment of the campus without the input of the community.”
That being said, Flynn said in a letter to residents that he’s committed to preserving the Loretto Academy chapel and cemetery and the views of Loretto Academy from Federal Boulevard. He’s also against letting through traffic from Federal into Dartmouth Heights and Harvey Park neighborhoods.
“I have taken only four key positions on redevelopment of the campus, and the group raising these concerns has adopted them and backed me on all four,” Flynn said. “I will support the community consensus, whatever it is, that results from this plan.”