Overlay district proceeds

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An overlay district is being proposed to preserve the charm of the Highland Square area in West Highland.

Denver City Council President Chris Nevitt said today that he would not support a downzoning of three parcels in northwest Denver where RedPeak Properties plans a trio of five-story buildings, but one West Highland neighbor is pursuing another option to stop the development – an overlay district for a wide-swath of land that includes the parcels earmarked for five-story buildings.

Marie Benedix this week filed a “pre-application review request” with the Community Planning and Development for the overlay district, which would limit the height of all new buildings in an area that is bordered by West 33rd and West 30th avenues and Julian to Perry streets to 35 feet. That includes the three parcels that RedPeak has under contract north of West 32nd Avenue on Lowell Boulevard, Meade Street and West Moncrieff Place.

Trevor Greco, who said he will act as Benedix’s “representative throughout the process,” has not yet responded to a request for details regarding the overlay proposal. Earlier, the West Highland Neighborhood Association narrowly voted to support the overlay district, as well as recommending new zoning for the three parcels, if the City Council decided to consider a downzoning – a remote possibility, according to Nevitt, as it would undermine the integrity of the zoning process, in his opinion.

“The intent of the proposed overlay is to provide additional height limitations that create a transition from the adjacent residential properties and that respects the character of the West Highland neighborhood…We would like to meet with you at your earliest convenience and will do our best to accommodate your earliest opening,” Greco, an engineer, said in a letter to the planning department.

Theresa Lucero, a senior planner for the city, in an email to another planner, said “If this application goes forward it will involve both a language and a map amendment.”

Steve Kite, zoning chairman for the West Highland Neighborhood Association, speaking at a WHNA meeting, said an overlay is a zoning change, and would require a super majority of the council. Kite voted against the overlay.

Kevin Neimond, president of the WHNA, said he is just learning how an overlay district, sometimes called a conservation overlay, would work. “No way is an overlay district a magic bullet, but it is another option, and we’re not opposed to it.” On the other hand, he said the group is more focused on trying to get a maximum of three stories on the West Moncrieff Place and Meade Street sites.

Many of the properties in the proposed overlay district are single-family, detached homes. A number of those homes, possibly the majority, already have a maximum height of 30 feet. Some houses with especially wide lots could have a maximum height of 35 feet.

Benedix, for her part, has spoken frequently and passionately against not only the zoning change that allows the five-story buildings, but new zoning that allows three-story buildings along much of the popular West 32nd Avenue shopping and restaurant district. She worries that the charm of the neighborhood could be lost, adding that similar well-known districts along South Gaylord and South Pearl streets escaped such development threats during the rezoning in June 2010.

Benedix recently posted this missive on the No High Rises in Highlands Facebook page:

During re-zoning 2009-2010, most parcels along 32nd Ave at Highland Square were wrongly up-zoned to 3-stories. They are now zoned to be scraped. This is morally wrong and in blatant disregard for Blueprint Denver, a document created to accommodate growth in a sustainable way, balancing the needs of the city as a whole. Blueprint Denver does NOT advocate scraping stable 100-year old neighborhoods. Please help us stand for what is right according to Denver City plans and for protecting Historic Highland Square from being scraped; just like we are glad that South Pearl, South Gaylord were protected from the same fate through appropriate 2-story zoning. Thank you.

Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com

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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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