If you’ve ever looked at a map of the truly weirdly shaped City and County of Denver, you might have spotted two blank spaces outlined — they look a bit like a lake — near the southeast corner of the city’s boundaries.
The spaces are split by I-25, with one small section on the west and a much larger one on the east. It’s sandwiched between Denver’s Goldsmith and University Hills neighborhoods, with Hampden bordering the southeastern portion.
I was looking at it after Denver Elections released their precinct results and turnout map last month. While most everything is colored in to indicate turnout, this chunk stands out, simply labeled “unincorporated area” and filled with a white cross-checkered pattern.
It’s unincorporated Arapahoe County. Google Maps doesn’t give this spot a name, but you can’t always trust them with these things.
Arapahoe County Planning Division Manager Jan Yeckes called the area the Holly Hills neighborhood in an email, which is also the name of a nearby elementary school located in the unincorporated area bordered by South Monaco Parkway and East Cornell Avenue. Yeckes said this area has mostly single-family homes and few condos or apartments. The elementary school is part of the Cherry Creek School District.
“Arapahoe County has a number of unincorporated enclaves in the metro area,” Yeckes said by email. “Some, such as the Holly Hills neighborhood (near Hampden, Monaco, Yale), are almost entirely suburban residential neighborhoods; others, such as properties near Sheridan and Littleton, are commercial, industrial or residential.”
Sandra Burke has lived across from Holly Hills Elementary School in the Holly Hills neighborhood for five years. Her home sits on Cornell Avenue, a short drive from South Monaco Parkway, where unincorporated Arapahoe County ends and Denver begins. You can tell because the unincorporated part has green street signs with the little Arapahoe County logo, while the Denver side is logoless.
Burke described the neighborhood as quiet. She believes most people living there are very much aware that they’re not in Denver. Like many of neighbors, she needs to hire a separate trash pick up and usually takes advantage of the lower tax rates for Arapahoe County residents when making large purchases (like a car) even though her address lists Denver.
Her main reason for living there? The schools.
“We did it because it’s Cherry Creek,” Burke said, taking a break from putting up a holiday decoration. She has one kid in a local high school, though she suspects neighboring children don’t attend the nearby school. “A lot of the kids in this neighborhood don’t go to Holly Hills.”
Taylor Wilson has lived in the unincorporated area across the highway from larger the Holly Hills neighborhood area since September 2016. His home, on the west side of I-25, qualifies him to serve on the University Hills Neighborhood Association (and he does) despite not technically living in that neighborhood.
He has to pass through Denver no matter what direction he heads out when he leaves his home. So when time came to repave some of the roads, Wilson immediately noticed roadwork for Denver and Arapahoe County was out of sync. He said was being done at different times, making things a bit “cumbersome” for neighbors.
“You can tell the counties aren’t really talking about it when they do it,” Wilson said. “The roads were always terrible for a while. Now everything pretty okay.”
Royce and Tamra Haynes bought a property in this same area in September. Royce Haynes said access to the Cherry Creek School District was a big reason for their move. The Hayneses have a three-year-old daughter, Tayven, and did a lot of research before deciding to move from Stapleton and found the neighborhood topped a list of best places to live according to a website called Niche.
“That’s what got us looking in the area,” Haynes said. “Once we started looking at the area, the house prices are relatively low for Denver. (It’s) an area that seems like a no-brainer place to live.”
Yeckes said homeowners sometimes aren’t interested in being annexed into a city based on “differences between county and city taxes, laws and services.” She said she’s not sure why Denver didn’t annex the land when it had the chance.
But schools play into why they won’t now.
The land is unlikely to ever be annexed now, thanks to a Greenwood Village woman who opposed the busing that was part of Denver’s school desegregation efforts in the ’70s.
It goes back to 1974, when Coloradans passed the so-called Poundstone Amendment.
David Broadwell, special counsel for Denver’s City Attorney’s Office, said the amendment made it “virtually impossible” for the city annex territory since any annexation would require a vote of the entire country from which the property was being detached. Another law passed the same year required any annexation to Denver to be approved by a body called the Boundary Control Commission, comprised of representatives of all of the counties surrounding Denver.
Denver in 5 min.
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University of Denver associate professor of law Tom Romero said it was sold to suburban residents as a way to address concerns over school integration in Denver following the Keyes decision forcing Denver to desegregate its schools.
Hanson said Freda Poundstone of Greenwood Village led the campaign to pass the amendment that later carried her name. Hanson said she didn’t want her community annexed by Denver, which in turn would have made those communities applicable to the new desegregation rules, which included forced busing.
“I don’t want to cast their parents as racist monsters … the parents didn’t want their kids taken across the town,” Hanson said, adding that this could end up being an hour away from certain communities. “It was a real concern for a lot of people.”
These are the places in Denver that aren’t in Denver because they’re in Arapahoe County.
We tried counting the Denverlocked enclaves by using county maps and cross-referencing them with the counties.
There are several unincorporated Arapahoe County pockets completely surrounded by Denver:
- The Holly Hills neighborhood, which is the one pictured in the elections map above, bisected by the highway. This is probably the largest “island” within Denver. It’s a suburban enclave with mostly single-family homes.
- A little fast food oasis near South Quebec Street with a McDonald’s and a Taco Bell and parking for RTD. Arapahoe County Planning Program Manager Jason Reynolds said the island was created by a strip of public right-of-way in Denver’s jurisdiction. It’s a tiny portion that keeps the McDonald’s parking lot from touching Greenwood Village.
- A single plot at 1700 S. Quebec St. shaped like a triangle. Current Planning Program Manager Jason Reynolds said it’s a former landfill and the property owner is developing it as an assisted living facility and senior housing.
- A square area in the area west of Quebec, consisting of a little residential area. It is surrounded by Denver and sits between East Jewell Avenue and East Panorama Lane. It’s bordered by South Oneida Street, which is in Denver.
There are other unincorporated Arapahoe County areas that are surrounded by Denver and one or more other municipalities:
- The Four Square Mile Neighborhood is a big unincorporated area that is sandwiched between Denver and Aurora. It’s right next to the square area at 1700 S. Quebec St., but it’s disconnected from the square through a tiny strip of South Oneida Street between Asbury and Panorama. This is a big area (Yeckes said the area is about 2.6 square miles) and Reynolds said he believes most people here are pretty aware they’re living in Arapahoe County. Reynolds pointed out the High Line Pointe Apartment complex at 1291 S. Parker Rd. in this area — it has one tower in Denver and one tower in Arapahoe County. Reynolds said developers had to simultaneously get approval from both counties during the construction process.
- An odd-shaped hexagon near East Hampden Avenue and South University Boulevard surrounded by Denver on its north and eastern sides, Englewood to the west and Cherry Hills Village to the south.
- An area near West Floyd Avenue and South Knox Court that borders Denver and Sheridan. Reynolds said this unincorporated area has a mixture of single-family homes, apartments and industrial-use properties.
Of course, there’s the City of Glendale, an Arapahoe County enclave inside Denver. But unlike the other areas, it is not unincorporated. It’s also part of Arapahoe County, which means residents are eligible for jury duty there (nice!).
Among the unincorporated Jefferson County enclaves is this single house.
- Perhaps the most glorious enclave example we could find: A single, .47-acre plot with a single-family home at 6101 W. Hampden Ave., with a Lakewood mailing address. It is completely surrounded by Denver. Jefferson County’s planning department said there were Denver annexations to the north/east/west in 1961 and the south in 1971, stranding the house.
- Across the highway from the solo JeffCo enclave is a 1.8-acre plot of land with two addresses. One address is listed as 6000 W. Hampden Ave., Lakewood, and another property is listed as 3545 S. Harlan St., Denver. The entire plot is owned by The Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, per Jefferson County assessor records. Denver annexed surrounding land in 1971 (north/west) and 1972 (east), per the county’s planning department.
- Two neighboring buildings, 4700 S. Wadsworth Blvd. and 4600 S. Wadsworth Blvd., are in the southwest section of Denver and completely surrounded by the city. They both have addresses listing Littleton as the city. The site at 4600 houses an Enterprise Rent-A-Car, while 4700 is home to Total Orthopedics. Denver annexed surrounding land in 1972 (east and west) and 1973 (south and north).
And in case you were curious: Adams County spokesperson Jim Siedlecki said to his knowledge, there are no portions of Adams County within the City and County of Denver. He did say there are some addresses in unincorporated parts of Adams County that list Denver, but there are no enclaves that he knows of in the county.
It can be a little confusing.
Daisy Dalegowski used to live near one of these unincorporated areas, but she didn’t know at first. She’s currently the children’s ministry director at LifeSource Adventist Fellowship, which sits next door to 6000 W. Hampden Ave., Lakewood, one of the unincorporated Jefferson County islands within Denver.
Dalegowski is originally from Florida. When she moved to Colorado in 2014, she lived inside the Four Square Mile Neighborhood. She found out, of course, at the DMV.
“They were like, ‘Oh, you need to go an Arapahoe address,'” Dalegowski said. “The sad thing is you don’t figure it out until you’re in front of the line.”
Despite having Denver in her address, she was an Arapahoe County resident. So the Denver DMV sent her somewhere else. Somehow, she ended up way out in Brighton (Adams County). The entire thing turned into a six-hour ordeal before she was able to find the right place to get a new license in Aurora.
“It was quite a day,” Dalegowski said.
Denver’s only had one major annexation since Poundstone, and you can probably guess it.
In 1988, Denver annexed land from Adams County to build Denver International Airport. Broadwell said this effort required a special act from the General Assembly and voting from residents in Denver and in Adams County.
Denver is allowed to make small changes to its boundaries, which city records show it has done a few times after a 1999 act passed by the General Assembly granted it this power. Broadwell said this law allowed the city to make small adjustments without county-wide approval. City records show between 2003 and 2009, the city has made six such adjustments, ranging in size from 0.9 to 7 acres.
A list of the city’s annexations dating back to 1864 shows before the 1988 DIA land annexation, the city’s last annexation before the Poundstone Amendment was something called Cherry Creek Meadows in November 1973. The approximate location for the 47-acre annexation is listed as Bates and S. Yosemite Avenue in city records.
So, did we miss any?
Are you aware of any other small unincorporated chunks within Denver from other counties or municipalities? Or do you live in these areas? Drop me a line.