A grocery store in Cole will mean an oasis in Denver’s food desert

A developer has bought a piece of Lawrence Street to make fresh food and attainable rental homes available around 36th and Downing.

(Denver Community Planning and Development)

(Denver Community Planning and Development)

staff photos

A full city block and then some will host a grocery store and about 200 apartments — about 20 of them attainable for lower income residents — if all goes according to a plan put together by EXDO Properties and City Councilman Albus Brooks.

The project requires new building rules to move forward, and the Denver City Council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved those rules Tuesday, sending them to the full legislative body for a vote.

Also: The developer needs more space to fit a 30,000 square-foot grocery store and enough apartments to make affordable rental units pencil out.

So he bought a street from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

The new-look block will engulf Lawrence Street where it swoops between Downing and Marion. Those streets will become two-way roads, which aligns with a 2009 city plan for the area and is more conducive to walking and biking.

“We thought that if we could square off this whole block, we could provide an amenity that this neighborhood desperately needs, which is a grocery store with fresh produce and affordable food for all, and that’s the vision here,” said EXDO managing partner and Cole resident Andrew Feinstein.

A grocery store near two rail stations (30th and Downing and 38th and Blake) is a big deal for Cole and the surrounding neighborhoods, which comprise one of Denver’s many food deserts.

The grocery would provide 100 local jobs, according to Feinstein, and make walking, biking and transit better options for more people.

“I think when we think about smart, equitable development for the community, these are the kinds of things we want to see,” said Brooks, who lives in the neighborhood. “This is the urbanist vision for development.”

The developer says he will build more affordable housing than the site requires.

New buildings would rise up to five stories, a height that would require the developer to build 2 percent of those units for low-income residents.

On Tuesday, EXDO committed to making 10 percent, or 20 of its apartment homes, affordable for households making 60 percent of the area median income or less. One person making about $38,000 a year would qualify. So would a family of four that makes about $54,000.

Brooks said EXDO will sign a development agreement with the city. The document will lay out goals for “open space,” or permeable land, on the property.

The development will supplant an auto repair shop, a used car lot and, oddly, a doll restoration store.

Denver’s planning department received 128 comments supporting the project and letters from four properties that oppose the loss of open space and a mature tree canopy. Eleven registered neighborhood organizations gave their blessing.

EXDO will replace the lost open space within the development, according to Feinstein.

King Soopers? Safeway? Whole Foods?

Probably not a Whole Foods. Feinstein said EXDO is negotiating with a “substantive grocer,” which is helping design the development. The store will serve people of all incomes.

“Certain grocers are really good fits for some neighborhoods and certain grocers are good fits for other neighborhoods, and I think that for this specific neighborhood it’s incumbent upon us … to produce a grocery store that has affordable pricing,” Feinstein said.

He may reveal the company’s name by April.

This article was updated to reflect the correct number of opposition letters received by the city.

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