The far northeast corner of Denver now has a manual for locals and developers to live by

The City Council passed a decades-long growth plan for Montbello, Green Valley Ranch, Gateway and DIA on Monday.

Homes in Green Valley Ranch, Oct. 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homes in Green Valley Ranch, Oct. 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

The Denver City Council OK’d the Far Northeast Area Plan on Monday, a blueprint meant to shape growth and development in the suburban-style neighborhoods for decades to come.

Overall, the 219-page document imagines the city’s youngest neighborhoods — Montbello, Green Valley Ranch, Gateway and DIA — as denser and more walkable with more food markets and other daily needs. Simultaneously, it promises to “maintain the character” of low-density neighborhoods while keeping manufacturing jobs around.

On the winding streets and cul-de-sacs of Montbello and Green Valley Ranch, only so much can change, with suburban houses taking up much of the land. But the strategy targets shopping centers and corridors, aiming to densify them with more homes and businesses — but not supplant industrial and manufacturing centers.

Roads lined with huge, empty fields — some of the largest, last undeveloped areas in the city — would absorb a lot of new development in the ideal world of the planning document. Peoria Street is one future commercial corridor, with a commercial hub planned for its intersection with I-70.

A lot of the new development would come online in the vast, undeveloped parcels between Tower Road and Peña Boulevard, anchored by new and existing RTD stations.

“Transformational projects” make an appearance, too, like a neighborhood walking loop in Montbello anchored by a grocery store and a “cultural hub” with homes and businesses. Nonprofits and commercial partners are already in talks for the district they’re calling “FreshLo,” for “fresh” and “local” that would include affordable housing.

The development of a transit-oriented district around 61st and Peña and a new A Line station at 72nd and Himalaya will also shape the future contours of the far-flung neighborhoods.

Like a lot of city plans, this one has aspirational goals in an area grappling with real problems, from access to fresh food to obesity.

The Far Northeast Area plan lists 84 actions to, well, act on. Some will see movement in the coming months, but others could take years, even decades to realize as private and public investments ebb and flow.

“Some would say this is when the hard work actually begins,” said City Councilman Chris Herndon, who helped shepherd his district’s plan through the public process.

Far northeast Denver covers about 17 square miles and houses more than 75,000 people. The average far northeastern household makes about $48,000 a year — $8,000 less than the average Denverite household. About 65,000 people in Montbello and Green Valley Ranch live outside of walking distance from a grocery store.

Forty-two percent of locals are Latino or Hispanic, according to the document, with African Americans comprising 26 percent. About 17 percent of the population is white.

Healthier families and easy access to more daily needs — caused both by car-dominated streets and lacking retail options — are some of plan’s top goals.

Not one household is within walking distance — a half-mile — of frequent bus or rail lines, according to the plan. The dearth of good transit and excess of car-oriented development has sapped walkability in the area, leading to sprawl that contributes to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Residents said they wanted more places closer, whether it was for entertainment or daily necessities.

Today’s fights over neighborhood change start years, sometimes decades earlier, when city planners and neighbors forge vision documents like this one. On Monday, the locals who helped build the blueprint were all about it.

The Denver Department of Community Planning and Development spent two years working with the neighborhoods on the plan, guided by a committee of locals and nonprofits, city planner Eugene Howard said.

Planners held 20 steering committee meetings, six public meetings, and visited more than 50 events to gain input.

“We feel confident the plan reflects those that live in the community,” Howard said.

Mayra Gonzalez, a community organizer who worked on  the plan, said she was thrilled to get started on implementation.

“The last plan for Montbello is as old as I am, and I’m 27 years old, so this is really needed,” Gonzalez said.

Montbello resident Donna Garnett could’t wait to “bring to life the transformative initiative,” she said.

It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine. One resident questioned why fracking wasn’t addressed to protect an area with interest from the oil and gas industry. City planner Courtland Hyser said the omission was  “valid criticism.” He also said residents were mostly concerned about walkability, more retail and affordable housing. City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore pointed to the city’s newly adopted comprehensive plan, which addresses oil and gas development.

The City Council approved the plan 8 to 0, with members Rafael Espinoza, Albus Brooks, Jolon Clark, Wayne New and Paul López absent.

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