Somewhere in Denver, there’s a “good neighborhood agreement” to ease tension between developers and the residents of Virginia Village who have a stake in the transformation of the former Colorado Department of Transportation headquarters.
The nonbinding document sits unsigned, though, and the official neighborhood organization that might have certified it just disbanded.
The Virginia Village Ellis Community Association had been reviewing Kentro Group’s bid to build homes and businesses — the company needs Denver City Council’s permission — on the abandoned CDOT site. But the group dissolved earlier this month after the revelation that its officers may have been elected without a quorum. Unproven allegations of a conflict of interest with the organization’s vice president further muddied the waters.
The backdrop: change.
Some view the neighborhood as an area where single-family homes should reign. Others welcome the density and the legally binding commitment of 150 affordable housing units and public open space that come with it.
“I think some of the neighbors would like to see single-family housing, but that’s not sustainable,” said Kristin Jones, a Virginia Village resident who volunteered for a task force to review the project. “We don’t need more single-family housing, we need all housing.”
The homes would help repopulate Ellis Elementary School, Jones said, which has seen attrition as families get priced out. She hopes that growing the city’s affordable and market-rate housing stock would reverse the trend and chip away at Denver’s housing shortage.
Tim Carl, who lives about a mile from the CDOT site and is a professional planner, detests the idea of mixing taller buildings and row houses with ranch homes but says he’s not against the affordable housing component. He’s the neighborhood organization’s former secretary.
“My concern right now is, when you look at the transitional nature of uses as we move further east from Colorado Boulevard, (the rezoning) will allow for row houses, it will allow duplexes,” Carl said. “This is higher density development that is inconsistent with the surrounding character of the area, which is single-story, low-density residential.”
Apartment buildings, a hotel and other taller buildings already sit near the site. And the area is one of many pockets around the city that should combine to absorb 20 percent of new jobs and 25 percent of new households by 2040, according to the draft Blueprint Denver plan to shape growth.
For-profit developers like Kentro often use money from market-rate homes and shops to subsidize the affordable homes for, in this case, at least 20 years. City funding may be used as well, according to the legally binding development agreement.
The agreement has been signed by the city and by Kentro. The company’s co-founder, Jimmy Balafas, guaranteed the affordable housing piece as long as the council allows the new density.
“We’re doing it,” Balafas said. “We are doing it.”
Disagreements over density evolved into accusations of a conflict of interest.
Before the disbanding of the Virginia Village neighborhood group, Carl and at least one other person accused its former vice president, Mike Cerbo, of a conflict of interest.
Cerbo works for an engineering firm, Galloway, which is “engaged with the Kentro Group in a limited role to conduct conceptual site planning and modeling for the CDOT Property,” the company said an email to City Councilman Paul Kashmann. He was not “involved in any way with respect to our company’s role in this project, or any Kentro Group projects where Kentro has been a client or contracted with Galloway,” the letter states.
Carl urged Cerbo to disclose the perceived connection, but that didn’t happen, he told Denverite. Cerbo said he did and recused himself from any votes associated with the project. Meeting minutes do not support either side, but Christine Richards, a member of the organization, said Cerbo was “always upfront about his conflict of interest, and recused himself of participating in decisions relating to VVECA’s position on the topic.”
He stepped in to the role when the organization was in danger of crumbling earlier this year, she said.
“My motivation for being on the (registered neighborhood organization) was because I see the value of RNOs and I believe they’re important aspects of living in Denver,” Cerbo said.
We could see 12-story buildings if the city council votes against rezoning the site.
To appease nearby residents, Kentro already lowered building heights from 12 stories to eight. But if the current zoning rules stick, the property owner could build homes, restaurants and offices of up to 12 stories tomorrow. The buildings would have to sit back 20 feet from the street, which saps walkability, said Andrew Webb, a city planner with Denver Community Planning and Development.
Developing the site under current rules “may not accomplish the city’s goals for walkable, mixed-use redevelopment of the site with affordable housing,” Webb said in an email.
As for Kashmann, he hasn’t made his mind up as to how he’ll vote.
“My responsibility is to listen on the night of the public hearing to all the testimony that’s given and then come to a decision along with my colleagues,” he said.
The city council is expected to vote after a public hearing Dec. 3.
This article was updated to include Richards’ comments.