5-story Highland apartments pilloried, praised

RedPeak Properties plans to keep the main church building on this site on Lowell Boulevard, just north of West 32nd Avenue.

Voice your opinion in a poll at the end of this blog.

A ground-swell of grassroots opposition to three, 5-story apartment building slated to be constructed in the heart of the West Highland neighborhood appears to be growing.

Some, however, applaud the proposed development near Lowell Boulevard and West 32nd Avenue.

In any case, Denver-based RedPeak Properties, which has a track-record of building sustainable apartment communities and managing them well, is moving forward on the 160-unit apartment development on three parcels at the church site just north of West 32nd Avenue along Lowell Boulevard and Meade Street. It also includes a site across from the church bordered by Lowell and Moncrieff Place.  The development will have about 225 parking spaces, not the 160 that neighbors were told about this week at what promises to be the first of many meetings on the project.

No to high-rises

At the meeting at the church, titled No High Rises in Highland, about 100 residents gathered, and many of them weren’t thrilled to learn about the plans.

Despite the title of the meeting, Laura Goode, who lives near the church, said the main purpose of the meeting was to “inform and educate” neighbors about the proposal. Indeed, when she took a poll on how many people knew the new U-MS-5 zoning for the property allowed five-story buildings, only about three people raised their hands.

Although city officials say all of the rezonings such as this one – part of the biggest overhaul of the zoning code in Denver’s history – was an open process, Goode said that she believes the rezoning wasn’t properly publicized.

At one point, she said the process sounded like something that would take in place in Russia, not in America.

Goode, who previously had done public relations for giant Canadian developer Intrawest, said that Intrawest had to scrap a proposed $1 billion development in Copper Mountain because of neighborhood opposition, even though Intrawest thought it was a slam dunk.

RedPeak Properties plans to build a 5-story apartment building on this parking lot.

She said the same thing is true with RedPeak, even though their planned development is allowed under the current zoning.

“Ship has not sailed”

“Their ship has not sailed,” she said. “They want you to think their ship has sailed, but it hasn’t.”

One potential option may be to attempt to convince the City Council to down-zone the property. Susan Shepherd, the recently elected City Councilwoman for that district, could not be immediately reached. Goode said when she talked to Shepherd, she was unaware that the zoning allowed 5-story buildings. The zoning took place before she was elected.

Goode and a number of people at the meeting said it appeared that  the church site had been “up-zoned” to allow more density.

Previous zoning had no height limit

However, under the previous zoning of R-4, would have allowed 248,600 square feet of buildings on the three sites. At an average of 800 square feet per unit that would translate into 310 units. Also, R-4 had no height limit, so a developer could have constructed buildings far taller than five stories.

Mitch Markley, who also lives near the site and helped organize the meeting, said he worries the development will bring another 300 to 350 people to an already busy intersection, which will add to congestion and traffic jams. He also said that he fears that the renters will be rowdy and noisy and the buildings will cast a shadow and change the “skyline” of that area. There is, however, already 4-story condo project  adjacent to the site on Lowell Boulevard.

Following the meeting, Markley said he’s not sure if the neighbors are better off working with RedPeak on concessions or try to launch an “all-out” opposition to kill it in its current form.

Evan Lichtenfels, development director for RedPeak, said he thinks the development, as yet unnamed, will be a good fit for West Highland.

First, he said the 225 parking spaces, built on what are known as a “podium parking structure,” where residents take an elevator to halls leading to their units, will mitigate concerns of residents parking on the street, where spaces already are hard to find.

Some neighbors, however, fear that when people visit renters either for parties or to hit the many restaurants and bars along West 32nd Avenue, will soak up scarce street parking and prevent homeowners from parking in front of their homes. Markley said one solution may be to have the city issue parking permits to residents who live near the building.

Neighborhood appeal

“We really like this neighborhood,” Lichtenfels said. “We think it is one of the few truly organic Main Street areas in Denver. We love the unique blend of restaurants and retailers that are nearby and along West 32nd. We are going to be an asset of that neighborhood. We recognize the history of the neighborhood and we are going to design it in a way that it is going to fit in with the neighborhood.”

The buildings are being designed by Humphries Poli Architects. Drawings are not yet available.

In addition to more parking than required, the buildings will include secured storage for bicycles and it will be easy for renters who work downtown to catch a RTD bus on West 32nd Avenue.

Ground-floor retail

The development also have about 10,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor of the buildings along Lowell. Lichtenfels envisions a restaurant on the church site and service retail on the Moncrieff Place property across Lowell Boulevard from the church.

The original church will not be razed or added on. The second floor of the church will likely include amenities for renters such as a fitness center and a cyber-cafe, he said.

“We like how the original church integrates into the development,” Lichtenfels said. “We could get more density – that is, more units, by tearing it down – but we think it will contribute to the overall project.”

Neighborhood demographics also are an appeal.

“You know, the average price of a home in that area is 50 percent higher than for the overall city,” Lichtenfels said. “A lot of young professionals are priced out of buying there. And there are very few new, first-class rental choices in that area.”

Today’s renters, tomorrow’s buyers

He expects that a certain percentage of the renters will end up buying in the neighborhood.

“I would think so,” Lichtenfels said. “We expect that we will primarily rent to young professionals. As they earn more money, a lot of them will probably want to stay here.”

Units will range in size from about 500 square feet to 1,100 square feet. Monthly rents are expected to range from just under $1,000 to $1,800 or $1,900 per month. Twenty five percent of the units will be studios, 25 percent two-bedrooms and 50 percent one-bedrooms. RedPeaks expects the building will be Silver LEED-certified.

Construction likely will start in the late second quarter of next year or in the early third quarter of 2012. Construction will take 18 months.

Jeff Hawks, a principal of Apartment Realty Advisors, estimated the completed cost of the apartment community between $35 million and $40 million.

Hawks said that neighborhood objections to the development fall into three categories:

  • NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.
  • BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone
  • NOPE – Not On Planet Earth.

(Goode, for her part, said she is not anti-developer or anti-development. She said several times she has no problems with re-developing the church site, but would like to see 2-story or even 3-story buildings on the site.)

In any case, Hawks said that he thinks neighbors fears are an expected kneejerk reaction, but are not warranted.

“Look, if all 225 cars were going through that intersection at Lowell and 32nd at once, and you were behind them, it would take four light cycles to get through,” Hawks said.

“But in real life, they are never all arriving home at the exact same time,” Hawks said. “It is staggered. Some people will take their bikes to work nd others will take the bus. Honestly, I don’t think people are going to notice any big changes in traffic.”

Rowdy tenants? Not at these rents

He also said he doesn’t think noise will be an issue.

“A lot of these renters will be making $50,000 or $60,000 a year,” Hawks said. “That’s a pretty good income, but they are priced out of that neighborhood. A high-end development like this doesn’t attract the kind of crowd that causes a ruckus.”

Some renters will end up getting married and will be able to afford to buy in the area when they combine their incomes, he added.

“You also will find renters who previously lived in the neighborhood, got divorced and want to stay near their kids,” Hawks said. “It also will attract a surprising number of retirees. There are a number of retired people who have moved from the suburbs into apartments in LoDo and the Golden Triangle, but would rather live in Highland, but there is nothing available.”

Also, he said that Mike Zoellner, who heads RedPeak, only develops first-class properties. He redeveloped an old office building at 1600 Glenarm Street in downtown Denver and The Seasons of Cherry Creek high-rise near the Cherry Creek Shopping Center.

Jeff Hawks says RedPeak only builds quality properties, such as the Seasons of Cherry Creek, shown here.

“They should be glad it is Mike Zoellner, who I think is a third-generation Coloradan, and not some out-of-state group that would hold it and flip it in three years,” Hawks said. “RedPeak holds their properties forever and only builds top quality. RedPeak is a great landlord and the units will have granite countertops and other really high-end finishes. These will be condo-quality units. There is no market for condos today. But to tell you the truth, that might be the only location in Denver where you could get away with building a big condo project.”

Barnes bucks blight cries

Dave Barnes, who recently moved about a mile north of the church, but frequently walks around the West Highland area with his wife, Tracie, said that in his mind opposition to the development is classic NIMBYism.

“The big square box (added to the church in the 1940s) that is there now is ugly,” Barnes said. “The church is not much better. Clearly, it does not have a classical look worth preserving, in my opinion.”

He does agree that the new 5-story buildings will “loom,” an opinion held by a number of people who attended this week’s meeting.

But he said there are other considerations.

“The site currently generates $37,000 annually in real estate taxes,” Barnes said. “My best guess is that will increase to over $150,000. That seems like a good thing to me.”

In addition, “some ugly parking lots will disappear.”

Still, Barnes realizes his is a minority viewpoint that is not shared by people who live closer to the church.

“Those who live nearby will be opposed because they don’t want the change,” Barnes said.

And those who don’t live nearby, simply don’t care, he said.

My feelings regarding the 3, 5-story buildings on this site would be described in the following way.

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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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  1. 5-stories is not a high-rise, it is called a low-rise. A mid-rise would be something between 7-stories and 25-stories. A high-rise would be anything over 25-stories. 5-stories is a good, healthy density for an area such as Highlands, but only if it incorporates ground floor retail. The fewer parking spaces built into the building, the better. You don’t want to encourage people to drive there, by making ample parking guaranteed. Instead, you want to restrict parking, so that non-residents visiting Highlands for the retail and such, are encouraged to get there via mass transit from Union Station and then walk and/or ride bikes to and around Highlands. This creates a healthy and vibrant streetscape, instead of a congested, automobile overrun neighborhood.

    • All good points. I look forward to the development of this site. There have been several re-developments that have added to the allure of the Highland Square area. 32nd/Julian – 3 story mixed use property added great retail space and density to the neighborhood. There is another proposed project on 32nd/Irving that looks like it will do the same, also 3 stories tall with a mixed use element.

      The concerns I have regarding this project are:

      MASS – why 5 stories x 3 buildings. I just don’t understand how this “fits in” with a neighborhood that consists of mainly single family homes and duplexes, many only two stories tall.

      Traffic flow – I have a hard time believing that adding 225 cars through 32nd and Lowell would not cause issues. There is NO turning lanes!! Sometimes it takes one light cycle for ONE car to turn left. How will adding 225+ cars (don’t forget you are adding 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space that people are trying to access), will not be an issue. I would love to see the traffic flow report that proves that it would only take four lights.

      Parking – Over the last several years, the city has attempted to solve the already frustrating parking problem with permits and limiting parking times on side streets. I am concerned that with a property of this size, on this corner we are just adding to the already growing problem. Again, I would love to see an independent study that shows that the additional parking necessary to accomodate tenants, guests, and shoppers is properly built into the project or there are proposed solutions prior to construction.

      I look forward to the re-development, but question the mass, traffic flow, and parking solutions….

  2. Mr. Rebchook-

    Do you know, or has there been any discussion concerning, the impact of parking for the first floor retail? Parking during prime restaurant hours seems to be the biggest problem in the 32nd and Lowell area. If the developer were able to address that problem, to provide sufficient parking for his retail or, even better, additional parking (even pay parking), he may garner significant support for his project.

    Do you know how I find out more about this?

    Thank you,

    Ellen K.

    • Ellen – All questions regarding what the city is doing to ensure the viability of this project should be directed to the planning office’s coordinator for this project. You can reach her at: shannon.haydin@denvergov.org

      The developer will have to submit plans for the City’s approval, and the planning office will oversee that process, and any public involvement with it.

  3. Ellen,

    I can understand how you feel, but you have to realize that you live in the City. There are many advantages to living here, cultural and lifestyle, but with those attributes comes what some may call annoyances, like parking. From what I can tell, the developer has every right to build his proposed project, he is meeting all of the city zoning requirements. Also, by the developer moving forward with this project, you will see people working in a sluggish economy. If parking becomes to much of an issue because of densification then we should start having serious talks with the City of Denver about providing a Street Car system into the Highlands.

  4. @JohnR
    “Barnes bucks blight cries”
    You could not find a B-word to use instead of “cries”?
    bawl, bawling, bewailing, blubber, blubbering,
    bawl, bemoan, bewail, blub, blubber, boohoo, break down, burst into tears
    bark, bawl, bay, bellow, bleat,

    Barnes bucks blight blubbering.
    Barnes bucks blight bawling.

    Some people are reporters and some are headline writers, cf. Fark.com

  5. It amazes me that people who were totally uninterested and uninvolved in a FIVE YEAR rezoning process that involved dozens of meetings and public forums (many of which I attended because I’m interested in the neighborhood) are now saying the that the rezoning “was not publicized” and was like “something that would happen in Russia”. Hardly. Maybe if folks like Laura Goode got involved in the process when they had an opportunity to shape the outcome…instead of waiting until they are personally affected…their complaints might hold more weight. 100 people showed up at the No Highrises in Highland meeting. I never attended a public meeting on the new zoning in the neighborhood that was attended by that many people. I think that says it all.

  6. The rezoning of parcels was not properly communicated and shared with neighboring citizens in 2009/2010 – I along with the dozens of neighbors that reside feet away from the development site can attest to that. Such high density living is incredibly out of character for this area and will be an eye soar to one of Denver’s most quaint and cherished neighborhoods. Residents within close proximity are open to development of these parcels, but are interested in a proactive approach that is compatible with the area. Smart density and smart development are needed to preserve this gem of a neighborhood.

  7. I’m concerned that this will change the flavor of the neighborhood away from an area with owners who take pride in their yards and homes to. I believe these structures will bring in people who want to live in a hot area, and will likely need a roommate to afford an expensive apartment and will need more parking than will be accommodated in the structure. The parking around here is at a premium as it is. Another huge concern is that the buildings will attract a lot of people who favor Ed Hardy and Affliction t-shirts. No, I don’t care about the fashion choices of those moving in, but rather the probability that they will be d-bags. I don’t want this place to turn into Jersey Shore West.
    Concerning the other development; the 3 story buildings fit in with the community and are intended to be sold, not rented. It’s a completely different target market.

  8. Parking already sucks, and the flavour of this neighborhood is small development and single family homes. 2 stories, three at the most with underground parking, and great archetecture would make it barely acceptable. Put a quadraplex or 8 condos. Use USONIAN style.

  9. What’s interesting is no one, not even the author, is even commenting on the fact that in the radius of Highlands, after this church is demolished, there will be one or two remaining churches to service this community with worship and support. Every other church or faith establishment has been scrapped leaving the Highlands neighborhood as one of the least served areas on the front range.

    Let’s do a study on that and see how it effects the overall crime, neighborhood rapport and general community atmosphere that is cherished in the Highlands area. The quaint feeling and livelihood of 32nd street is about to be choked.

    Prime example of what happens with too much building and not enough planning is an article in the Denver Post written October 31st titled “Trendy LoHi Experiencing Parking Pains.” And it’s taking a task force of planners to find a solution to the problem.

    This redevelopment, if all things move forward, will make an eternal impact for more than the church congregation and the area it serves; it will impact the entire face of the intersection at Lowell and 32nd for the many decades that follow. Let’s invest our money into giving a facelift to the parking lots and existing structure to preserve the central Highlands vibe and support the church that is meeting the needs of the community as it stands.

    “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

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