Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Neighborhood residents picket proposed high-rise development

As angry neighbors had promised, pickets appeared April 9 at the University of Denver light-rail station.

The group of about eight was there to emphasize neighborhood opposition to plans for a 12-story high-rise on public land just west of the station platform.

Holding signs that read, “No High-Rise Here” and “Keep Buchtel Beautiful,” picketers elicited honks from passing motorists on Buchtel Boulevard and lobbied pedestrians and joggers in the early evening hours.

“Our visibility is going to continue to help neighbors direct their concerns to the appropriate city officials,” said University Neighbors President Liz Ullman, one of the picketers. “Picketing will continue over the next 10 days.”

The proposal to which neighbors object is a rezoning that would usher in construction of a 210-unit blend of residences and ground floor retail shops on Buchtel Boulevard near High Street. The high-rise would be built on a 2.75-acre triangle of land presently occupied by the RTD parking garage, light-rail station and a grassy area west of the platform being used as a “detention basin” for storm-water runoff.

“Our objections fall into four general categories: traffic, parking, density and safety,” Ullman said April 5.

The land is owned by a triumvirate that includes the Colorado Department of Transportation, the city of Denver and RTD and is zoned R-3 for residential use. The rezoning plan on the table would change the property to RMU-30, a broader category that allows everything from retail shops and a hotel to a bookstore or museum.

The rezoning is being spearheaded by George Thorn, president of Mile High Development, which constructed Denver’s Wellington Webb office building and the new Denver Art Museum, among other structures. Thorn proposes to lease the land and build a high-rise for use as either rental housing for graduate students or a residence for seniors. No determination has been made, and only general outlines of Thorn’s plan have been made public because the rezoning does not require a detailed development plan.

A spokesman for Thorn said he would not comment on the picketing.

At public meetings, Thorn has said that the rezoning is justified by RTD’s and Denver’s commitment to Transit Oriented Development, an initiative to encourage development near transit stops as a way of discouraging auto use. Both the city Planning Board and council’s Blueprint Denver committee agree and have advanced the issue to the full City Council with recommendations to approve.

The uncertainty about the project maddens many people who live nearby and who say it is not yet clear how the light-rail station, which opened Nov. 17, 2006, is working — let alone what impact a high-rise might have.

“How do we know this is the right fit when we have no plan?” asked Julie Connor, aide to Councilwoman Kathleen MacKenzie and a candidate for MacKenzie’s District 7 seat in the May 1 city election. “Our rezoning process is bass akwards. We rezone and then deal with the impact rather than plan for the impact and rezone accordingly.”

To read more about the rezoning efforts, please see the DU Today archives and the following

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