Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

City Council considers relinquishing claim to light-rail station property

Denver City Council will be taking up a vacation plan later this month, but it’ll be no day at the beach.

The discussion could reignite a fiery, two-year dispute over a proposal to build a high-rise on public land just west of the platform at the University of Denver light-rail station.

The project was energized April 30 when the council solidly approved rezoning the property to allow the high-rise. The decision came despite heavy opposition from residents, who had picketed the site in the weeks leading to the vote.

Now, two months later, the council faces yet another difficult step: whether the city should give up claim to, or vacate, a small amount of land it owns at the station.

“The project cannot go forward without the vacation,” George Thorn, president of Mile High Development, told the mayor and city council members June 19. “It would be dead.”

Giving up claim to the land would allow Thorn or any other developer to negotiate a land-lease with RTD, which owns the remainder of the 3-acre site, including the light-rail platform and 540-space parking garage. A lease would help launch construction of a building that could be up to 140 feet tall — about 11 or 12 stories.

Thorn has met several times with the leaders of two neighborhood groups opposed to the project – West University Community Association and University Neighbors — in a bid to iron out differences and win the groups’ support. That hadn’t happened as of late June, but discussions were continuing.

“We’re trying,” Thorn said June 19. “We’re going above and beyond so there are no surprises.”

Development agreements already in place address some aspects of parking, construction management and landscaping. Anything in addition would have to be attached to some other device for ensuring that the commitments were carried out. The task of figuring out how to do that is the province of City Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie, who is sitting in on negotiations and trying to spearhead an agreement before her term of office ends July 13.

So far, says Liz Ullman of University Neighbors, all that’s been agreed to is that communication should be “increased and enhanced.” Concerns relating to pedestrians and vehicles, off-site parking, safety and the size of the project are still unresolved.

“We’d sure like a public hearing, and we’ve asked council for one,” Ullman says. “Given the number of neighbors involved and the volume of our opposition, it seems that council would want to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed in a public arena.”

City Council referred the bill to its Public Works committee June 25 and scheduled the measure for final reading on July 9, when a public hearing will be conducted. Comment will be limited to one hour, during which comments on several unrelated bills also will be heard.

[Editor’s note: This story was updated on June 26.]

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