Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

University Park high-rise development hits legal snag

Plans to build a high-rise on Regional Transportation District (RTD) land near the University of Denver light-rail station are being held up by a legal snag that will take an act of the legislature to repair.

The statute authorizing RTD to develop property does not specifically permit “residential” uses, only “retail or commercial.” Since the 11-story, 210-unit high-rise proposed for the DU station would be a residence, RTD lawyers believe they cannot approve it without getting express authority, says Bill Sirois, manager of transit-oriented development for the agency.

To secure this green light, RTD intends to ask the legislature to expand the transit agency’s power to develop stations, terminals or park-n-rides for residential, transit-oriented uses, Sirois says.

The precise form of the request is still being worked out, Sirois says. Whatever is decided will be presented to the General Assembly during its 2008 session, which runs from January to May. The legislation would affect not just the station at DU, but any RTD facility in FasTracks, a 12-year, $4.7 billion project to expand light and commuter rail by 119 miles, add rapid transit bus service and build 21,000 new commuter parking spaces.

Because RTD expects that the legislative process will take months, the agency’s board of directors on Sept. 25 decided not to wait to begin negotiations with Mile High Development about the DU station project. The talks will last up to 12 months and are exclusive, according to an RTD memo, “because the developer has already brought significant value to RTD through the rezoning and land vacation associated with this development.”

“It’s to protect the work we’ve done on the site,” says Lynn Crist, executive vice president of Mile High Development.

In late April, Mile High persuaded the Denver City Council to rezone the University Station property to a classification that would allow more uses, including a high-rise rental apartment. The city followed that action in July by giving up all claim to pieces of the station property it owned, effectively ceding full control to RTD.

Most observers expected the project to go forward, but now RTD finds itself handcuffed until the legislature acts. In the meantime, talks will commence about all phases of the project, including the option of selling the land to Mile High, which RTD says is “on the table.”

The language snag gives opponents of the high-rise project some of what they initially fought for when opposition to the building gathered steam last year. Both neighborhood organizations in the vicinity of the station — West University Community Association and University Neighbors — had asked that any high-rise be delayed at least one year so use of the light-rail station could be measured. The anniversary of that year will be Nov. 17, the date in 2006 when the light-rail line got under way.

The site for the proposed high-rise is a small triangle of land over a detention pond just west of the platform on the north side of Buchtel Boulevard.

“We’re looking at student housing,” Crist says. “We won’t be restricting it to students but the design of the building will appeal to students.”

Read our related story: DU transit passes to continue in ’08 despite fare increases

To read more about the proposed high-rise, please see the DU Today community archives and the following articles: 
Dec. 1, 2006 – Neighbors fighting light-rail apartments
Dec. 22, 2006 – Planners back light-rail apartments; decision delayed
Feb. 28, 2007 – High-rise proposal near light-rail station making tracks
Feb. 28, 2007 – Cars are the key to the proposal
March 1, 2007 – Light-rail high rise put on hold
April 6, 2007 – Neighborhood residents plan to picket proposed high-rise development
April 10, 2007 – Neighborhood residents picket proposed high-rise development
May 1, 2007 – High-rise at light-rail station gets green light over opposition
May 11, 2007 – Neighborhood group softens opposition to high-rise development
June 22, 2007 – City Council considers relinquishing claim to light-rail station property
July 10, 2007 – City Council decision gives green light to developer

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