- Emmaus is seeking to rezone property in West Highland.
- Emmaus has voluntarily agreed to shrink size of property by almost 26%.
- Emmaus wants to rezone the property for a zoning that allows a medical office building.
- Some neighbors fear the rezoning would bring more traffic and congestion to an already congested area.
Officials from the Emmaus Lutheran Church, who have been involved in a controversial rezoning battle, have voluntarily agreed to reduce the size of the property it wants rezoned in northwest Denver by almost 26 percent.
As was suggested by some city officials and neighbors, the church also is seeking to move the lot line on a parking lot at Irving Street and West 32nd Avenue north, so it will be across from the PInche Taqueria restaurant and farther from homes to the south.
It would reduce the overall parcel size for a proposed 2-story medical office building to about 23,000 square feet from about 31,000 square feet.
However, the move to reduce the parcel’s size hasn’t convinced neighbors opposing it to support the rezoning.
“The fact that Emmaus is proposing to decrease the size of the lot they want rezoned does not impact the size of the building,” said Brett Baldschun, a neighbor who lives near Emmaus.
“The church and their development team have stated publicly that they will have shared parking with the adjacent lot, and therefore will not be required to have full parking on their lot,” added Baldschun, representing not only his own opinion, but speaking behalf of numerous neighbors fighting the rezoning request.
“By having this, they can keep the size of the building as originally proposed and this does not address concerns of the neighbors because it does not address the size of the building or intensity of use,” he said.
The proposal to shrink the size of the footprint for the building comes after the church and neighbors opposing the new zoning could not reach an agreement after about five weeks of behind-the-doors mediation. Some neighbors oppose the zoning because they fear that a medical office building on the site would increase traffic and congestion in an already congested part of West Highland. They also worry that the proposed medical office building would be too big and out of character for the neighborhood.
Although it would be the largest single-use commercial project in the area, earlier church officials said it would be about the same size as the vacant school on the property that would be razed to make way for the medical office building. Emmaus officials say the churc has been a fixtures in the neighborhood for more than a century and the medical office building would allow it a long-term income stream to stay in the neighborhood for another 100 years.
The church’s request to upzone the property to U-MS-2x, which allows a variety of commercial uses including medical office buildings, from U-SU-A, which is for single-family homes, is scheduled to go before the Denver City Council on Monday evening.
However, if the council agrees to the reduction of the parcel’s size, Monday’s planned public hearing and vote on the rezoning likely will be delayed, Sundari Kraft, spokeswoman for Emmaus, said on Tuesday afternoon.
“Although we agree with (Community Planning and Development ) and the Planning Board that our current application meets all of the criteria for a rezoning and is supported by Blueprint Denver, Emmaus has always been responsive to community input and we want to continue to be,” according to Kraft. Blueprint Denver is a transportation and land-use guide for the city. The size of the building hasn’t been determined and would be decided after working with the city and engineers after the zoning is approved, according to Kraft.
“In the past we have heard concern expressed about the size of the lot from Councilman (Rafael) Espinoza, a couple members of Planning Board, and community members giving public comment,” Kraft said.
“So, after our mediation finished unsuccessfully, the Emmaus team spent some time discussing whether there was anything more we could do to further improve this project,” she said.
“We decided to shrink the lot significantly by bringing the lot line north to the point that those expressing concerns requested,” Kraft continued. “Our initial lot size early in the project was approximately 39,000 square feet. Our current rezoning application has a lot size of approximately 31,000 square feet, and we’ve asked to revise our application in order to bring the lot size down to approximately 23,000 square feet. Since this revision is precisely in line with requests we’ve received from Councilman Espinoza and members of the community, we don’t expect any objection to our request to modify our application.”
Espinoza could not be immediately reached for comment.
Baldschun said neither he nor other neighbors are anti-growth.
“Denver is a large dynamic city experiencing very dramatic growth,” Baldschun said. “Growth for the most part is a good thing as it creates prosperity and wealth and increases property values for everyone. However not all growth is appropriate or healthy for a community. We as a community, as a city, must have zoning guides that help us adhere to what is appropriate and sustainable development, such as Blueprint Denver.
“Blueprint Denver defines this area as an area of stability,” Baldschun continued. “An area of stability is one which is appropriate for small-scale infill development. What the Emmaus team is proposing is neither small-scale nor appropriate for this area. What the Emmaus team is proposing is the largest commercial building in the community. Large commercial buildings have a large impact on a community. This is concerning to the neighborhood.”
He said the majority of neighbors want to keep the current zoning for single-family homes in place.
“There is considerable wisdom and logic in this approach,” Baldschun said. “After all, barely five years ago the city reviewed the Emmaus property that is the subject of the current rezoning application and determined that the most appropriate zoning, consistent with its historical zoning, is single family residential. We, as neighbors investing in our nearby properties, should be able to rely on a considered zoning decision that is barely five years old.’
At the request of Espinoza, mediator Steve Charbonneau met with the Emmaus team, neighbors and City Planning in an attempt to mediate a resolution to the re‐zoning conflict over the property.
All sides agreed to confidentiality, but the mediation failed last Friday.
“There were four significant initial points of conversation around the proposed rezoning,” Charbonneau wrote in a letter that is a public document, as it was sent to city officials.
“We were able to reach tentative agreement on the majority, but not upon all points. Without complete agreement on all four points we failed to come forward with a partial agreement. We do not have a mediated agreement to the rezoning proposal,” according to Charbonneau.
He said he believes everyone participated in good faith and were committed to reaching an agreement.
“At the mediation, the parties agreed to keep the discussions confidential to encourage full and frank discussion. As a result, this summary does not include detail regarding the conversations that took place,” he said in his letter.
Baldschun said while the majority of neighbor want to keep the current single-family zoning in place, something other than the proposal on the table could be acceptable to them.
“On the other hand, some neighbors, while agreeing with the argument that the zoning should not be changed, are nevertheless willing to engage in conversation with the church about a zoning change, but not to something that will result in the magnitude and intensity of use of Emmaus’ current proposal,” he said.
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