Denver City Council deems part of East Colfax blighted, approves moves to attract redevelopment

The decision opens up the potential for a special taxing system.

An empty business at East Colfax Avenue and Quebec Street, Aug. 22, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

An empty business at East Colfax Avenue and Quebec Street, Aug. 22, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver City Council on Monday voted 11-2 to establish an urban redevelopment area for East Colfax in an attempt to lure more development into the area.

With the vote, the council has deemed the area blighted and given the go-ahead for it to be redeveloped with the help of sales taxes and property taxes. The system is known as tax increment financing, which is when the places within the blighted boundary help finance developments.

The redevelopment area will encompass East Colfax Avenue between Monaco Parkway and Yosemite Street, on the border of Aurora.

Like so many other decisions that come before the City Council, the decision showcased tension between people questioning development in their community and the city pushing for a plan it believes is the most suitable for the area.

Tracy M. Huggins, executive director at Denver Urban Renewal Authority, on Monday outlined the urban redevelopment area’s main goals. They include eliminating blight by renewing the area’s character, redeveloping sites in the area, pushing for more affordable housing options and focusing on minimizing displacement.

The urban redevelopment area does not rezone property, approve a specific project or authorize eminent domain.

Repeating her comments from the previous week, District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said these kinds of urban renewal plans detrimentally affect residents of color. She was joined by District 11 Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who also voted against the urban redevelopment area.

“A denial tonight is not a permanent denial, but a two-year pause,” CdeBaca said. She added, “We need to press pause … we know a lot of change is coming to this part of the city.”

District 8 Councilman Chris Herndon, whose district includes a portion of the urban redevelopment area, said East Colfax needs the support.

“This is a tool … that serves a community that is in desperate need,” Herndon said.

District 5 Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer also supported the plan. Her district also includes portions of the urban redevelopment area. She said not having tax increment financing as an option is “short-sighted.”

Several members of the public urged the council to consider the area’s character, while concerns were raised by local business owners who feel they might be pushed out. East Colfax is one of the more ethnically-diverse neighborhoods in the city.

East Colfax resident Brenden Greene put it simply: he wants to see “urban renewal, not urban removal.” He said he wants to protect the area’s cultural diversity while providing more affordable housing.

Brenden Greene testifies before Denver City Council, Aug. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Brenden Greene testifies before Denver City Council, Aug. 26, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Resident Larry Drees supported the urban redevelopment area.

“We need this change and I don’t see this neighborhood — this neighborhood has always been extremely diverse,” Drees said, mentioning the area’s refugee residents. “They’re not going to get displaced. Why not build affordable housing for people that are living in rundown shacks?”

Monica Martinez, executive director at The Fax Denver, said the organization wants to add higher density to the area. The group supports the urban redevelopment area because, she said, the city “can only acquire so many properties” and private developers are not keeping up with demand.

Correction: Due to a typographical error, this story originally incorrectly stated the final city council vote tally. The story has been updated with the correct vote count.

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