Council paves way for 12-story condo tower at Sloan’s Lake

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Highlights:

  • City council approves zoning for 12-story condo tower.
  • NAVA Real Estate plans a rare condo building.
  • A spirited and emotional public hearing preceded the vote.
A rendering by RNL of the planned 12-story condo building across from Sloan's Lake.

A rendering by RNL of the planned 12-story condo building across from Sloan’s Lake.

The Denver City Council, following a marathon public hearing, on Tuesday night, unanimously approved rezoning that will allow a 12-story condominium tower to be built across from Sloan’s Lake.

The decision paves the way for Denver-based NAVA Real Estate Development to build the 226-unit, energy-efficient, sustainable and “healthy” building on a 2.2-acre site at West 17th Avenue and Stuart Street.

It is believed to be bigger than all of the other condo projects on the drawing board in the entire Denver metro area.

That is because condo construction has come to almost a complete halt because of the cost of fighting what many developers believe are frivolous lawsuits because it is so easy for condo HOAs to sue developers for construction defects.

NAVA likely will buy the land this spring, said Brian Levitt, president of NAVA.

RNL will come up with drawings for the building and construction will begin in the spring of 2016, with units opening a year later, he said.

Units prices have not yet been determined, but he and NAVA CEO Trevor Hines are trying to make the condos as affordable as possible.

The council vote came after listening to three hours of testimony from more than three dozen citizens.

Residents, most from the West side, but a few from the other side of the city, had strong feelings in favor of the for-sale housing, while others were equally as fervid in opposition.

Some homeowners who lived less than two blocks from the planned tower could barely contain their excitement that the market-rate tower would be a catalyst for more and better retail, and an image-booster for the high-crime area near West Colfax Avenue, where it is easier to get a tattoo than a Tall coffee.

Another image of the condo building planned by Sloan's Lake.

Another image of the condo building planned by Sloan’s Lake.

Others, equally as close, cried foul that the tallest building on the site of the former St. Anthony’s Hospital would be across from the biggest lake in Denver, instead of along Colfax, as earlier plans had proposed.

EnviroFinance Group is the master developer for the 19-acre site. now called SLOANS.

In addition to the 12-story tower, the former hospital campus will include an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, a number of restaurants, market-rate apartments and a combination of for-sale and rental work-force and affordable housings.

Affordable and workforce housing is expected to account for 15 percent of the 800 to 1,200 residential units when the SLOANS urban village is built out.

One woman, who has lived near Sloan’s Lake for the past 40 years, said the condo tower would irreparably harm the character of the area, bringing too much traffic and congestion.

“Vote with your soul and vote with your conscience,” she said.

Some of the more than 100 people who filled the benches in the council room applauded so loudly that they had to be warned not to react so viscerally, as a lot of people were waiting to speak.

On the other side of the issue, is David Goldblatt, who  traces his roots to the West side to 1896.

Sloan’s Lake needs more dense development, such as the 12-story condo tower, to thrive and survive, said Goldblatt, president of the West Colfax Business Improvement District.

The tower is exactly what is needed and will serve as a catalyst for many more businesses and service.

The tower will not only help the area, but neighborhoods to the north, such as West Highland, which already is booming, and neighborhoods to the south, which are not, according to Goldblatt.

Ben Stetler, co-chair of the West Colfax Association of Neighbors, or WeCAN, also was strongly in favor of the condo building.

The Denver City Council voted unanimously to approve rezoning that allows a 12-story condo tower at Sloan's Lake.

The Denver City Council voted unanimously to approve rezoning that allows a 12-story condo tower at Sloan’s Lake.

However, he was critical of opponents, who he said used dishonest tactics, by saying that the site might be home to a 20-story, 24-story or even a 30-story building.

A number of people who had originally opposed the development, later withdrew their opposition, when they learned that the taller buildings were not being proposed, according to city officials.

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd, who represents District 1, which includes Sloan’s Lake, thanked everyone for the “rich” discussion.

Despite what some critics claim, she said the 12-story building is consistent with earlier plans, such the St. Anthony Task Force plan and the West Colfax Corridor Plan approved in 2006.

Shepherd rattled off a number of statistics about expected growth in the coming years, as well as stats on the huge crime problem along West Colfax.

West Colfax also suffers from high unemployment and  high poverty rates. Some 22 percent of the residents don’t have cars and would relish the opportunity to walk to work at new establishments at SLOANS, she said.

She said she “strongly supports” the rezoning and urged her colleagues to vote with her, which they did.

However, Rafael Espinoza, an architect who lives in Jefferson Park, who is running against Shepherd in the City Council election in May, said the council made a mistake in approving the zoning.

“What you see here…is a colossal failure of leadership in North Denver,”  Espinoza said.

“What it boils down to is the TCR building (Block 5) built under the same 5-story zoning, has the same number of units as the proposed 12-story NAVA project associated with this rezoning,” according Espinoza.

“Therefore, this was never a density issue, but people were duped into that argument,” Espinoza continued. “I contend that equal or greater density could have been achieved on these seven blocks with a more creative approach if the Councilperson (Shepherd) had the wherewithal to ask, guide, and lead the developer to achieve better outcomes. Instead the West Colfax community gets public revenue poured into a movie theater that serves alcohol on a property that’s no different than any other along Colfax and the affordable housing for EFG’s seven blocks are, once again, to be placed right on Colfax, not integrated into the project. The people who spoke on behalf of the project deserve better, but settled for what was offered. I would have expected more and used the opportunity to bring people together, not create factions. A colossal missed opportunity.The whole thing is a colossal mistake.”

And Larry Ambrose, vice president of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, said a “guiding principle” of plans hammered out by about 100 people almost a decade ago, was to put the greatest height and density along Colfax, not by Sloan’s Lake.

EFG, however, said shadows from the tallest building would have the least impact on the smaller, single-family homes to the east and west of the land, if the tallest buildings were between 17th and 16th streets.

Ambrose contended is because the real reason EFG flipped it is around was to maximize its profits, as land by the lake is more valuable.

“That’s understandable, but return on investment is not a criteria,” for the zoning decision, according to Ambrose.

He said the council needed to act as impartial judges, looking at the evidence objectively.

Hines, the CEO of NAVA, noted that the 12-story building will be setback 43 feet from 17th Avenue. That will mitigate a lot of the shadows across the park, he said.

“A lot of people are under the impression we are going to build lot line to lot line,” he said.

He was pleased with the council’s vote.

“I am very happy,” said Hines, son of Gerald Hines, whose Houston-based namesake company is one of the largest development companies in the world.

Interested in buying a home by Sloan’s Lake? Please visit COhomefinder.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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