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Demolition began Thursday on a dilapidated home in northwest Denver, more than a month after a city board gave developers the right to tear it down and replace it with a three-story duplex, over the objections of some neighbors and City Councilwoman Paula Sandoval.

The fate of the home, along Raleigh St., just south of the popular West 32nd Avenue corridor, has become a lightning rod that has drawn both strong opposition and support. The charge against the development was led by adjacent home owner, Anthony Cooper, one of the most vocal critics against the three-story housing units springing up in the neighborhood. Cooper planted protest signs, gathered signatures from like-minded people,  and even set a toilet bowl in his front yard to protest the development, which he believes is not in the character of the tree-lined neighborhood that includes older, more modest home.

Galoshes on a duck

“This will fit in the neighborhood about as well as galoshes on a duck,” Cooper, known as “Coop,”  said on Thursday, repeating a pet phrase for the project.

Anthony Cooper painted this toilet bowl in his front yard, where a home has been demolished to pave the way for a three-story duplex that he despises.

Proponents, however, viewed Cooper and his supporters as NIMBYism at its worst. NIMBY, or Not In My Back Yard, ultimately is short-sighted, as new, high-end developments tend to raise surrounding property values, while eyesore homes tend to drag down values of nearby homes, supporters of new developments contend. For example, in this case, the home would have fallen into foreclosure, if the home could not be razed, developers said, which only would have hurt nearby property values. In addition, the new development will generate more property taxes, which will primarily benefits the cash-stropped Denver Public School system.

The home was in such bad shape that the structure came down quickly, said Jeff Plous, a broker with One Realty and a former minority partner in the project.  ‘It came down in about 20 minutes,” added Plous who remains a spokesman for the project.

‘”It started this morning,” Plous said on Thursday. ” We’re pretty excited about this,” said Plous, adding that he grabbed a couple of bricks from the former home on the site as a way remembering all he and members of the development team went through to get it going.

Development drama

They faced a lot of hurdles to get to this point.  They squeezed under a moratorium-wire in place for that sliver of the neighborhood, that prohibited new three-story housing, even before the City Council recently approved a zoning overhaul that will basically eliminated most three-story residential units in much of Denver.

The city initially denied their required zoning request for the duplex, but changed its position when it realized it had made a mistake in turning it down.  But neighbors, led by Cooper, didn’t give up, and tried to shut them down on a technicality. On June 22, the Board of Adjustments for Zoning Appeals unanimously voted to deny opponents request to reject the zoning change, despite councilwoman Sandoval speaking on behalf of the opposing neighbors.  Sandoval has not returned calls to InsideRealEstateNews, since the hearing.  (For a previous story on this subject, please read Board rules in favor of developer.)

In retrospect, Cooper, said he believes he and the neighbors had no chance of prevailing at the appeal hearing.

“I think we had about as much chance of winning that appeal as a snowball had of not melting in hell,” Cooper said. “We found out later that almost everyone on that board is in someway tied to the real estate industry.”

One of the last three-story homes

The duplex will be the last three-story residential units to be built in the moratorium area that includes that section of Raleigh Street. The moratorium is no longer applicable, because of the City Council’s recent over-haul of the zoning code, which prohibits three-story housing units in most Denver neighborhoods.  The units will have about 3,500 square feet of space each, including the basements, Plous said, and the intent is to price them at about $650,000 each. Excluding the basements, the square footage in the two units would be slightly more than 5,500 square feet.

In one way, all of the delays caused by the neighbors, may work to their advantage. “The units will be ready next spring, which is when you want to open them,” Plous said. “And because they will be among the last three-story units built, hopefully that will make them more desirable. Not that there would have been any other three-story units built nearby. Most of the homes on Raleigh Street are too expensive to justify a redevelopment.”

Cooper is not alone in his distaste for the project.

Plous said a woman across the street from the duplex called him “evil.” When he told her that the duplex would ultimately increase the value of her home, she responded that will only increase her property taxes, Plous said. Another woman who favors new development, who lives in northwest Denver, said that her observation is that most of the vocal opponents to development do not have children. The woman, who talked on the condition that her name not be used, said that while a new development near her older home robbed her of a view, the laughter of the children who moved next door has more than made up for it. She added that historically young couples tended to move from the area to the suburbs when their children were school age, both to buy bigger homes and for better homes. Bigger homes, she noted, not only will keep owners from fleeing the city, but has the potential of improving neighborhood schools with additional property taxes that primarily go to DPS.

John Skrabec, principal of the nearby Live Urban Real Estate, without addressing the specific controversy with the Raleigh Street property, said new homes are beneficial in many ways. “They definitely add value to our neighborhoods, our schools, and our existing homes,” Skrabec said. “They are keeping families with small children in the neighborhood. And the increased density these homes bring also strengthen our community. It ultimately means more amenities and more tax revenue. It’s a natural and normal evolution of a modern American city. Neighborhoods evolve and change over time. And we’re fortunate to live in a place that has such tremendous energy. Poorly-maintained homes and vacant lots threaten home values. History, home sales statistics and data prove all this to be true.”

Duplex the right thing

Plous is convinced they did the right thing and the duplex is the best and highest use to replace the home, which suffered from huge structural problems and design defects, which he said made it impossible to sell to an owner-occupant for a profitable. Earlier, Cooper said that he would rather see the home fall into foreclosure than be built, but many others believe that abandoned and foreclosed properties hurt the very fabric of neighborhoods, driving down property values and increasing the chances of crime.

Plous is perplexed why Cooper and others would prefer a potential foreclosure than a new duplex. “Foreclosures are the worst thing for any street, any neighborhood,” Plous said. “They You really don’t want to be living near a dilapidated, abandoned home. Foreclosures drag down the values of all nearby homes. There is no guarantee that an investor is going to buy the home and fix it up. To prefer a foreclosure to a nice, new unit is just ridiculous. There is no other way to put it.”

Indeed, Plous said that thriving neighborhoods always add different styles to the housing stock to meet the demands of the market, which he said is healthy.

Skrabec, of Live Urban Real Estate, philosophically agrees with Plous.

Without addressing the specific dispute involving the development on Raleigh Street, Skrabec said: “I’m not opposed to the ongoing redevelopment of northwest Denver, and think most of what’s happening in the neighborhood is a positive change. Yes, some of the new homes being built, whether they are single-family or a multi-family, are different from the existing homes in the area. But I generally wouldn’t call them “out-of-character.” They are unique, and I think that’s fine. With a few exceptions, most of our neighborhoods are already very eclectic. I believe the new modern mix of residences adds a refreshing vitality to the area. (I would imagine that the same conversation took place in the 50s and 60s, when mid-century ranches were built on remaining lots scattered all through northwest Denver. I don’t see today’s changes any different.)

Mix of homes healthy

At the same time, Skrabec says he treasures historical significant homes.

” One of my two degrees from CU-Boulder is in Environmental Design with an emphasis on historic preservation,” Skrabec said. “It’s why I live in northwest Denver, and what led me to selling real estate as a career. I love old homes, and cherish the 20s bungalow in which I live. I’ve personally bought and renovated four homes in northwest Denver, bringing them back to life, and at the same time, enhancing the neighborhood. My heart breaks when I see a beautiful bungalow get razed for a new triplex. But for the most part, I don’t see this happening – most of the new construction occurs on available infill parcels or on lots with homes beyond repair or not worth saving.”

Neighbors may change their tune

“I think that people eventually will see what we are doing is good for the neighborhood and good for the home owners  around it,” Plous said. “We did make some minor changes. It is a little less flashy and has more brick, so it will blend in with the neighborhood better. It’s going to be a very nice project, it really is.”

Plous said that Cooper recently indicated to him that he hopes the projects end up in bankruptcy.

That’s not how Cooper recalls the conversation.

“I don’t think I said I hope they end up in bankruptcy,” Cooper said. “I think what I said is that he needs to be able to sell the house to make money. And with me and the neighborhood not supportive of the three-story, duplex, it might be difficult to sell it.” Later, Cooper said: “Quote me as saying I wish them all the best. I do wish they had consulted with neighbors a lot earlier, which would have avoided a lot of hostility.”

Asked if the protests, such as the toilet bowls in his yard and other yards, may scare off buyers of the duplex, he answered: “Possibly. Caveat emperor. Let the buyer beware.”

Encouraging protests

About a month ago, in an e-mail he sent to neighbors, Cooper had this to say: “I would like to encourage you all to help keep the fight up. We may have a huge ill-fitting duplex on our block but if we keep our signs and yard art up it will be difficult for them to sell the units and maximize their profits on our neighborhoods (sic) back. They will need to make a bank payment every month the units are not sold and the longer the units are unsold the less they make. This could be a loss loss situation with no winner!”

With the homes demolition, the project “is beyond the point of return,” Cooper said. Asked it it would be better for him to be living next an occupied duplex, instead of an empty husk of a building, he said he does not relish the thought of someone living in the unit. “I’m not looking forward to someone sitting on their balcony, or looking out their window, and being able to see me in my backyard,” Cooper said. “The reason we have privacy fences around our backyards is because we want privacy. I don’t believe this is going to help my property values. Who is going to want to buy my house, or the house to the north of it, when you could be sunbathing in your backyard, and potentially someone could be staring at you from above? That kind of flies in the face of human decency.”

Anthony Cooper snapped this photo of the home on Raleigh Street, which he says illustrates an unkempt lawn. Jeff Plous later cut the grass, after Cooper pointed out it was over-grown.

Chicken Coop?

Meanwhile, Cooper is toying with the idea of getting a permit to raise chickens in his yard.

But he insists that has nothing to do with the duplex.

“Yeah, I’m exploring that option,” Cooper said. “I always try to eat healthy, and if I had my own chickens, I could get organic eggs. I could make sure that the chickens are fed the proper diet and I would not get hormone-tainted eggs.”

He said some of his other neighbors also are thinking of raising chickens.

“I don’t think having chickens would have any impact on whether someone buys a unit,” Cooper said. “Who knows? Maybe my new neighbors (in the duplex) would ask me for some of my organic eggs and it would be the start making a friendship.”

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Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com or 303-945-6865.

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for GlobeSt.com, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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