- Council to vote on Emmaus rezoning in 2016.
- Council puts off vote and public hearing until Jan. 25.
- Rafael Espinoza disappointed vote wasn’t Monday night.
The Denver City Council vote on a controversial rezoning for part of a parking lot owned by the Emmaus Lutheran Church in West Highland, has been put off until next year.
The council Monday night, in a 7-5 vote, decided to hold a public hearing and vote on the rezoning at its Jan. 25 meeting.
The rezoning vote initially was to have taken place Monday night.
The vote has been postponed because church officials are seeking to have a parcel rezoned at Irving Street and West 32nd Avenue that is almost a third smaller than an earlier proposal.
“I’m sort of disappointed in the vote,” District 1 Councilman Rafael Espinoza said during the council meeting. The council took up the matter 3 hours and 26 minutes after the start of the meeting.
“It is very, very clear that this matter should have been heard,” said Espinoza, whose district includes the church parcel.
“It can’t be heard tonight because of our actions,” Espinoza said, during the 47-minute discussion of the issue.
However, continuing the matter to Jan. 25, presents a “significant (economic) hardship” to the church, said Sundari Kraft, who represented Emmaus.
A grassroots group calling themselves Neighbors for Zone it Right West Highlands issued this statement late Tuesday afternoon: “We are disappointed that City Council delayed the inevitable denial of Emmaus’ upzoning application. Emmaus saw the writing on the wall – that City Council was poised to reject its application to dramatically upzone the property on which Emmaus and its developer plan to build the largest commercial building in our neighborhood. Faced with that reality, Emmaus opted for delay in a transparent attempt to sap the resolve of the neighborhood to oppose this. It submitted an 11th-hour request to amend its application or withdraw it. We remain committed to ensuring that this dramatic upzoning will not succeed. Though these latest tactics have caused many to question their good-faith, some neighbors remain willing to engage Emmaus and its developer in conversation about a zoning change, but not to something that will result in the magnitude and intensity of use of Emmaus’ current proposal.”
After mediation efforts failed last month between church officials and neighbors opposing the rezoning that would allow a 2-story medical office to be built on a portion of the church parking lot, church officials moved to shrink the size of the land it wanted rezoned.
Kraft said reducing the parcel size and moving it north on the parking lot was to address concerns of the size and location raised earlier by some neighbors, two members of the Planning Board and even Espinoza. The church also has offered to provide one and a half times the parking required under the code, as well as make the lot available to restaurants and bars along the West 32nd corridor during the evening, when parking is at a premium.
However, Espinoza, who voted an “emphatic no” against reducing the site of the proposed rezoning to 22,670 square feet from 31,164 square feet, said there is much more to it than simply changing the zoning on a small piece of property.
On the larger site, a super majority, or 10 of the 13 council members, would need to have approved the rezoning request.
That is because neighbors had signatures on a petition opposing the rezoning from at least 20 percent of the landowners within 200-feet of the property.
It now may be more difficult to reach the 20 percent threshold because the church may control more of the land, Espinoza said.
However, just the opposite is true, by the church’s calculations.
Under the previous size, Emmaus would have owned 9.54 property within a 200-foot radius, while it will own 8.23 percent under the latest reconfiguration. That is a 1.3 percent point change.
“Unfortunately, the opposing neighbors’ claim that Emmaus was shrinking the lot size in order to significantly increase our portion of the 200-foot radius is yet another example of unfounded misinformation about this project, shared in order to unfairly portray Emmaus as acting in bad faith,” Kraft said.
“We revised the application for precisely the reasons that we stated during the hearing – to turn a very good application into a great one,” Kraft said on Tuesday afternoon.
Espinoza said the church previously had discussed a building with 23,000 square feet to 28,000 square feet on the larger site.
He repeatedly asked Kraft during the council meeting if the smaller site could accommodate a building of 23,000 square feet or larger.
Kraft said an “appropriate” sized building will be determined after the rezoning. She noted that the size of the building is not part of the criteria for the rezoning and the church officials, on this go around, have decided to “keep things simple” and only focus on what is required under the zoning code.
She noted the U-MS-2x zoning requested is the most restrictive commercial zoning offered by the city. The site currently is zoned for single-family homes.
Espinoza asked senior city planner Tim Watkins if there was any configuration of a building that would be as big or bigger than 23,000 square feet on the smaller site.
Watkins said he didn’t know for sure as it would depend on the use of the building, and review of the site plan by Development Services.
“Wow,” Espinoza responded.
The hearing on the rezoning for the smaller site initially was to have been held on Dec. 7.
However, Conor Farley, who lives about a block from the church, said given the holiday season and people going on vacation, it would be difficult to get the required signatures on another petition to force another super majority vote in that time frame.
He asked the council to push the vote back as late in January as possible, or even into February.
The council, with one dissenting vote, agreed.
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