Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

High-rise proposal near light-rail station making track

Plans to erect a 12-story residence just west of the light-rail platform at the University of Denver Station have until early February been promoted as rental housing for graduate students. But now it appears the high-rise might just as easily become senior housing that would actually exclude traditional students.

Despite this uncertainty — and extensive neighborhood opposition for a variety of reasons — the project is continuing.

Denver Planning Board officials voted Feb. 7 to recommend that the Denver City Council approve rezoning the 2.72-acre parcel, which includes the potential building site as well as the RTD parking garage and station platform. The rezoning from R-3 to RMU-30 would allow broader uses and, most importantly to developer Mile High Development, a reduced parking obligation for any building it might construct.

Council’s Blueprint Denver committee, which reviews rezoning proposals, is considering conditions that would address parking, building height, landscaping and construction disruption. The committee will review these conditions and the value of attaching them to the rezoning proposal when it next meets on March 14. 

In the meantime, uncertainty about the project, especially as to its use, is unabated.

Lynn Crist, executive vice president for developer Mile High Development, told the Denver Planning Board early last month that making the project a for-sale condominium is also on the table along with the senior option.

“We are not constrained by the finances to restrict it to students,” Crist told The Source, noting that any decision on making the building minimum-age senior housing would be made prior to the design stage so architects could tailor units to seniors’ needs.

The disclosure added a new wrinkle to neighborhood objections, which until now have focused on parking spillover, blocked views and loss of greenspace.

“It’s the incredible shifting project,” complained David Reusch, co-chair of the West University Community Association (WUCA). “There are a lot of unknowns.”

WUCA and University Neighbors, both of which include the light-rail station in their boundaries, have strongly opposed the development. Citing a litany of grievances, both groups have urged a one-year delay to determine how well the light-rail parking garage, which opened Nov. 17, is meeting commuters’ needs and to study the impact a residential project might have on parking in the neighborhood.

The developer is unwilling to commission architectural drawings until the rezoning that would allow the project is in place. Then project details and an exhaustive review process with the city could get under way. 

Standing behind the rezoning application is the Denver Community Planning Department, which recommended approval that the Planning Board endorsed, and the Regional Transportation District, which owns the garage and most of the land.

“RTD has been about encouraging development around transit for a long time,” RTD’s Errol Stevens said at the Feb. 7 meeting. “We are focused on reducing vehicle miles and [encouraging] the shift to bus or train. That’s the underlying purpose.”

Making money is also involved, Stevens allowed. He explained that RTD’s parking garage at University Station was designed for an extra floor to be added to the four-story structure. Doing so would add 130 parking spaces, which could be leased to Mile High Development along with the land on which their proposed high-rise could be built. RTD would use the income to provide parking at a different location in the transit system, he said.

Mile High’s proposal “would make beneficial use of land that is only used now as a drainage facility,” Stevens said, noting that RTD and Mile High have been working informally on a way to encourage high-density development near transit systems “for a long time.” The concept is known as “transit-oriented development.” 

Stevens’ disclosure startled residents at the planning board meeting, one of whom bristled that RTD would be unwise to squander parking spaces today that it might need for transit users tomorrow.

Stevens said usage surveys show the 540-space RTD garage is presently “hovering” in the range of 200 to 250 cars per day and that in RTD’s view, any plan that gets vehicles off the street “is a win.”

Neither perspective impressed planning board members, who insisted that the primary issue is whether the site is right for a transit-oriented project. They concluded it was, echoing testimony by James van Hemert, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute at DU.

“It shows Denver is serious about transit-oriented development,” van Hemert said. “This is exactly the kind of project that will get people out of their cars.”

Visit for an update. Learn how cars are the key to the proposal.

A version of this article originally appeared in The Source, March 2007.

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