City Council OKs 700 homes and other stuff in Elyria Swansea, against some locals’ wishes

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2535 E. 40th Ave. Feb. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A coalition of Elyria-Swansea neighbors lost their bid against a 700-home development at 40th Avenue and Clayton Street on Monday, a month after the Denver City Council stalled the project so the group could iron out disagreements with the developer.

Council members approved new building parameters against the wishes of some north Denver locals who worry that new investment will raise property values, property taxes and the possibility of displacement.

The vote was 8 to 4, with council members Debbie Ortega, Paul Lopéz, Paul Kashmann and Rafael Espinoza dissenting. Councilman Wayne New was absent.

Tom and Brooke Gordon own the 14-acre property at 2535 E. 40th Ave. They plan to turn the industrial area into a community of 700 townhouses and apartments — 70 of them for people who aren’t rich — and 25,000 square feet for shops, restaurants and rent-free space for “community space” like a food cooperative. The development would also house the Wonderbound dance company, a new performing arts stage and 2 acres of park space.

Most Elyria Swansea locals, some through interpreters, spoke in favor of change generally, but against this one. They wanted more time to negotiate and get signed guarantees from developers to protect the neighborhood from displacement — including a fee of $200 per unit to fund efforts like property tax relief and community land trusts.

“Usually when you have an industrial use next to a school and a residential area, it’s very unlikely that it will raise the value of our homes … as much as a mixed-use (property) would,” said Alma Urbano, part of the coalition.

The condos and apartments would have five times the units of attainable housing required by the city, according to Bruce O’Donnell, who represents the property owners. He said the commitment went “above and beyond.”

The Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Coalition voted against supporting the rezoning 12 to 7 at a meeting after mediated negotiations sponsored by the city. The Hancock administration’s Neighborhood Equity and Stabilizing Team, or NEST, attended some of those meetings but were unhelpful, a disappointed Nola Miguel of the GES Coalition said.

“They came to observe, didn’t say much,” Miguel said.

Several council members who supported the change said they were torn and frustrated, but that they were legally obliged to consider previous plans, including the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood’s 2015 plan for growth, sometimes over protests from neighbors.

Industrial companies have been knocking on the Gordons’ door to buy the property, according to the developer’s representatives. City Councilwoman Robin Kniech does not believe the area will benefit from a more industrial life.

“There is a difference in my mind between nada y insuficiente,” Kniech said. “This is not nada.”

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