Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

City Council decision gives green light to developer

The battle lines were familiar and the antagonists no surprise. On one side was high-profile developer George Thorn. On the other was a determined cadre of neighbors living near the University of Denver light-rail station.

In the middle was Denver City Council, agonizing over whether to let Thorn’s dream of a 12-story high-rise next to the station move forward or to send him packing.

“We need this,” Thorn told council July 9, “or we have a dead project and five years of wasted time.”

Proponents were conciliatory but firm. Opponents were unyielding and relentless. Council was inquisitive, but the hour was well after midnight when the hearing got under way.

Even so, the debate was vigorous.

“There is substantial doubt that the development of this (land) is the highest and best use of this property,” a fatigued but focused Dave Reusch said on behalf of the West University Community Association. A succession of neighbors echoed the thought.

In the end, though, the council gave the nod to the developer, voting 8-2 to relinquish claim to property it owns at the station and give the high-rise fresh legs.

Opponents included District 7 Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie, who on the last vote of her eight-year career stood arm-in-arm with constituents.

Earlier in the evening, MacKenzie had been presented flowers and a green metal Kathleen MacKenzie Avenue street sign. She also had received lavish praise from council colleagues except for District 6 Councilman Charlie Brown, who was absent during that portion of the meeting.

But neither a marathon session nor the conclusion of a political career that winds down July 13 could deter MacKenzie’s determination to be spirited to the end. She questioned the Regional Transportation District’s resolve to improve the University station’s traffic problems and chided her colleagues for giving up their rights, insisting that Denver has “an enduring interest” in making sure the station works properly.

She also joined City Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz in challenging the city’s 100-year-old policy of not getting compensation when it gives away land it doesn’t want. As a result of Monday’s vote, title to the city’s property will revert to RTD, which owns the adjacent parking garage and light-rail station.

“Why can RTD make money owning this property and the city cannot?” resident Barb Steinmeyer had asked council earlier.

The question went unanswered, though city attorneys said that when Denver gives up title to property, it no longer cares where that title passes. Further, getting compensation for property is not a common practice among municipalities.

“It’s on our priority list. We’re still looking into it,” said Assistant City Attorney Karen Aviles, a 1981 DU graduate.

Monday’s vote and an April 30 rezoning that council also approved mean the city won’t be involved in the high-rise issue again until detailed plans for a project are submitted. Until then, the focus is on RTD, which could negotiate a lease of the property with Thorn’s company, Mile High Development Inc., or any other developer.

Thorn said he had already offered neighbors “unprecedented involvement,” in the high-rise project. He further pledged to work with them to get design flaws at the station corrected and address other concerns.

“I’ll try my best,” he said.


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