Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt appears to have dashed any possibility of downzoning a trio of parcels in West Highland where a grassroots group is opposing five-story buildings by RedPeak Properties.
Nevitt told InsideRealEstateNews this evening that under no circumstances will he vote to downzone the parcels where RedPeak Properties a luxury apartment community.
Nevitt also said that he think is highly unlikely that downzoning would receive the 10 council votes needed to downzone the property against the wishes of the property owner. The land is owned by an investment group headed by Tom Wootten. RedPeak has the parcels under contract.
“I haven’t counted the vote – I have other things to do – but, yeah, I could’t imagine the council would go along with a downzoning,” Nevitt said.
Earlier City Councilman Charlie Brown also said he would not vote in favor of a downzoning. It would take a super-majority of 10 of the 12 council members to approve a downzoning. If Councilwoman Susan Shepherd submits a motion to downzone the land, she would need to recuse herself.
A grassroots group called No High Rises West Highland vigorously opposes the current development and wants Shepherd to support a downzoning the parcels north of West 32nd Avenue on Lowell Boulevard, Moncrieff Place and Meade Street. Neither Shepherd nor members of the No High Rise group could immediately be reached this evening.
“I wouldn’t want to opine whether five stories is right or wrong there,” Nevitt said. “There is a five-story building that would totally suck there and a properly designed five-story building that could work there. But that is not really the issue.”
The issue, he said, is that “property owners must be able to rely on their zoning. Fundamentally, the zoning asserts what a property owner can or cannot do on their property. Zoning is a property right. Property rights are a serious thing. If you can’t rely on the zoning, if you abandon zoning, you would need to go through a PUD (Planned Unit Development) on every single project and we are not going to do that.”
Not a zoning error
He said that he doesn’t put any stock in the argument of members of the No High Rise group that the zoning change on the parcels to U-MS-5 from R-4 was an “error” and needs to be corrected by downzoning.
“That is not true,” Nevitt said. “There is absolutely no evidence that happened.”
The zoning change, he said, occurred in an extremely open environment.
“Some people seem to think that there is some kind of algorithm to that determined what new zoning would replace the old zoning,” he said. “If there was an algorithm it was that you considered three factors: what is on the property now; what Blueprint Denver says; and the current zoning. But there was no formula that you just plug in that produced a uniform outcome.”
Should vs could
Arguments could have been made for a variety of different zoning for the parcels, Nevitt said.
“Some people say it should have been such and such zoning. More correctly, it could have been such and such zoning. You could make an argument it could have been MS-3, MX-3, MS-5, MX-5. A number of R-4 parcels were rezoned to MX-8, I think.” The number indicated the maximum number of stories while the letters designate the permitted uses, such as residential, retail or mixed-use.
Earlier, the West Highland Neighborhood Association had overwhelmingly voted to recommend possible new zoning for the three parcels, if the city council considers downzoning them.
“I think that, as always, we appreciate Councilman Nevitt’s candor in sharing his opinion and thoughts on a complex topic,” said Kevin Neimond, president of the WHNA. “We also understand many of the issues being outlined by Councilman Nevitt.”
3 stories sought on Meade, Moncrieff
The WHNA is part of a design stakeholder group, which he said hopes to preserve the character and charm of the neighborhood. He said its two priorities would be to try to have a maximum of three stories on Moncrieff and Meade and get a variance that would allow setbacks on those two parcels to be similar to the frontage on nearby homes. In layman’s terms, homes are farther back from the curb and sidewalks than commercial buildings, and the WHNA would like something similar on new developments on Meade and Moncrieff.
Shepherd had asked RedPeak to voluntarily downzone the Meade Street and Moncrieff Place sites. Reportedly, RedPeak is exploring the possibility of voluntarily downzoning the Moncrieff Parcel to four stories.
“I doubt it,” Nevitt said. “I do think that Susan Shepherd, especially considering that she is brand new on the job, is doing a great job in bringing all of the different people to the table. That is very admirable and will result in a better design and a better project. Often, these are zero-sum games, where there is a winner and a loser. This is a really good process that Susan has going.”
Very rarely, in the past, before the new zoning code was adopted unanimously by the City Council in June 2010, were there some ‘broad-brush” rezonings, he said.
“That happened in West Washington Park in my neighborhood and I pushed that, and (former northwest Denver councilman) Rick Garcia did the same thing in his district. But never have we said, “Now your zoning is in place, and you can’t do what the zoning allows.” It’s not even that allowing a downzoning would set a bad precedent. It just violates the very principle of a zoning code.”
Shepherd was recently involved in an incident in her northwest home that devolved into a shouting match.
“I found that appalling,” Nevitt said, who earlier released a letter calling for civility, and saying such behavior cannot be tolerated.
“But that has nothing to do with this. Property rights are a serious thing that is totally separate from that.”
One of the women who says she went to Shepherd’s house has been anonymously talking to some members of the media, saying that Shepherd was the aggressor.
Nevitt isn’t buying her story.
“I do not even know what the means,” he said. “They went to Susan’s house in the evening, without an appointment. End of story. If someone had given that even 10 minutes of thought, they should have realized that is inappropriate and is something you just do not do.”
He said that Shepherd made a mistake by inviting them in.
“She should not have let them in. She should have said this is my family time. Make an appointment with my office during business hours and I will be glad to meet with you.”
Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com