Some Crestmoor residents have strong opinions about what some Hilltop residents should do

This is one of those zoning fights that’s gotten personal.
5 min. read
Holly Street in Hilltop, Jan. 4, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The new brick homes on South Holly Street in Hilltop will stretch two and a half stories high and sport solar panels and trees for privacy -- if the Denver City Council approves a zoning exception Monday.

Seven homeowners are combining forces to make over the block with 23 smaller, relatively moderately-priced condos with "net-zero" energy use. Some residents would continue to live on-site and some would not, according to Anna DeWitt, who owns one of the homes poised for redevelopment. She represents the homeowners.

Residents in the next neighborhood over -- Crestmoor Park -- are doing everything they can to make sure nothing changes. Some say the Hilltop project itself is fine, just not in their neighborhood. Density, they say, belongs elsewhere.

"This new push for density, I don't know. Crestmoor and Hilltop do not seem to be the places for affordable housing," said Linda Lewis, who lives behind the would-be development, at a Denver Planning Board meeting in November. "You can go one block south into Glendale and there you have affordable housing."

A rendering of half of the proposed development. (Courtesy Jason Lewiston)

A cluster of seven townhomes and a five-unit garden-level structure, however, already exist on the block.

The 23 homes will be moderately priced -- for the neighborhood. They'll cost between $300,000 and $500,000, depending on the unit, according to developer Jason Lewiston. Hilltop home listings averaged about $1 million last year, according to Usaj Realty.

Lewis and others are backed by the Crestmoor Park Neighborhood Association and other Crestmoor neighborhood groups known for their anti-development posture.

They last made headlines by aggressively opposing a three-story complex of apartments and town homes in 2015. The group lost its bid to stop the project, sued the city council, and lost that bid too.

Crestmoor Park Neighborhood Association president Keith Whitelaw says the new condos won't fit with "the character of the neighborhood."

"We're very concerned about the congestion, the traffic and the high density that will exacerbate that," Whitelaw said. "The city's hellbent on approving developer plans for intense, high-density development."

Whitelaw claims that the city's Blueprint Denver plan for growth protects Hilltop from development because it's labeled "an area of stability." But that characterization does not make the area immune to development, the document states.

One Nextdoor post urging neighbors to protest claims homeowners are redeveloping "because current owners do not want to pay for upkeep of their properties."

The Hilltop neighborhood association took a neutral stance on the new homes, while 91 percent of Crestmoor neighbors surveyed oppose them. Crestmoor residents take issue with the fact that Hilltop did not send out a survey.

Brick townhomes in Hilltop on Holly Street, Jan. 5, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

DeWitt, a French teacher at North High School, says the opposition stems from fear of new people.

Hilltop should include more diverse housing types and more diverse people, she says. Single-family zoning has fueled racial segregation in the past, and "we have to get rid of this mentality as Americans," DeWitt said in an interview.

DeWitt said the project is simply a smart financial choice for her, her family, her neighbors and the environment. She originally planned to stay put after the block's transformation but said her neighbors have gotten too personal for her to stay in the neighborhood. They've called her greedy and said future traffic deaths would stem from the new homes, she said.

"If density equals traffic and traffic equals death, then the zoo would be a bloodbath," DeWitt said. "The Nature and Science Museum would be a bloodbath."

Lewiston, the developer, is on the same page.

"I think this (project) is a metaphor for the future of Denver," he said. "Are we gonna retain whites-only, single-family zoning... or are we gonna get past race-based zoning from the 1960s?"

A few parcels on Holly Street that's up for rezoning.

DeWitt and company can build an even denser structure right now, without city council approving zoning changes.

The seven homeowners want to spread the project across three properties, two of which are reserved for single-family houses. They need the city council to OK denser development there. If lawmakers don't approve the request, well, neighbors could actually see a bigger development stuffed onto a smaller lot where multifamily structures are already allowed.

"For some, their preference is that nothing occurs on this site," DeWitt said at a Denver Planning Board meeting. "And that is not one of the choices. On just the site where the five condos are, the building could be three stories and 35 feet tall. It would be very helpful if my neighbors would understand this."

DeWitt and company underwent city-sponsored mediation meetings that led to several concessions: No rooftop terraces, more off-street parking spots than the city requires, trees to protect privacy and a more generous setback from the street. Those changes did not soften the opposition at all.

The Denver City Council votes on the zoning Monday night, following a public hearing. Expect it to get loud.

This article was corrected to reflect the type of housing approved in 2015 in Crestmoor. They housing was not reserved for seniors, as erroneously reported.

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