- Emmaus rezoning request dies this morning.
- Council voted 8-4 in favor of rezoning.
- Rezoning needed 10 votes in favor to pass.
The contentious rezoning request by a church in West Highland that has stretched over almost a three-year period and has led to heated comments by both sides, died early this morning.
The Denver City Council, by an 8-4 vote at 12:30 a.m. today, voted to approve the rezoning for the church property at West 32nd Avenue and Irving Street.
However, a super majority of 10 votes was required to approve the rezoning that would have allowed a proposed medical office building on the half-acre site.
That is because neighbors who opposed the rezoning and fought hard against it, collected signatures protesting the rezoning from more than 20 percent of the people who lived within a 200-foot radius of the site.
The council voted after almost five dozen people spoke during a public hearing, both against the rezoning and in favor of it
A number of the church members who spoke in favor of the rezoning to U-MS-2x, a commercial zoning from the current single-family home zoning, do not live in the neighborhood, while virtually all of those speaking against the rezoning do live in the neighborhood.
Many of the neighbors opposing the rezoning said they bear no ill-will to the church and are not against development, but said that the proposed medical center.
- Is too big for the neighborhood.
- Would be the largest single-use commercial building along West 32nd Avenue.
- Would result in increased traffic in an already congested area and would increase parking problems.
Church officials, however, noted that their plan calls for more parking than required under code. In fact, they planned to work with neighborhood businesses along the bustling 32nd corridor to allow them to use the parking on evenings and weekends, when the medical center wouldn’t need the parking. The church wanted a medical center, as opposed to selling the land outright, to provide it with a steady source of income.
“I want to acknowledge the community effort,” to stop the rezoning, Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who represents District 1, where the church is located, said at one point.
He said it was especially impressive that neighbors gathered signatures to protest the rezoning from nearby residents, not once, but twice.
Near the beginning of the marathon session, Neil Neudorff, the president of Emmaus, said the church might be forced to sell the entire site, which includes the church building to a developer, if the rezoning was denied.
A developer, he said, likely would plan to raze the church building and build the densest possible development on the entire 63,000-square-foot site, from 32nd Avenue to 31st Avenue.
He said he did not think the neighborhood would like such a plan.
It also would be mean that Emmaus would leave the neighborhood after 109 years.
Emmaus planned to demolish the abandoned school building and replace it with a two-story medical office with 17,500 square feet to 23,500 square feet of space.
Espinoza said that while the neighbors and the church officials seem extremely far apart now, he said he thinks he could barter a deal that would make both sides happy.
The church officials can’t go back to the council for another rezoning request for a year, but Espinoza said he would be willing to legislatively sponsor a rezoning, if he could bridge the gap between neighbors and church officials.
“I don’t harbor any of the animus that you may feel that’s out there, and as the representative of that district, I can legislatively rezone this, and I would be happy to do that,” Espinoza said before the vote.
Espinoza was joined by council members Paul Kashmann, Jolon Clark and Wayne New in voting against the rezoning.
Before the vote, Councilwoman Robin Kniech said she thought it was unlikely that Espinoza could broker a deal between the two sides.
“Thanks for the vote of no confidence,” Espinoza replied.
Kniech said it was a reasonable request by the church. She said she feared that the church economically would be forced to sell the land, setting up another neighborhood battle with a future developer.
It also will be sad to lose the church, as that is happening far too often in Denver, she said.
Her colleagues on the council, she said, often want more details for developments at this stage of the process and the church has presented more details than she has ever seen.
The church for example, revealed early on that it has a letter of intent from Lutheran Medical Center to operate the medical center.
Councilman Paul Lopez, before he cast his vote in favor of the rezoning, said he was “absolutely conflicted.”
He said he was so conflicted, he really didn’t even want to vote. He said while he didn’t think the church will leave the neighborhood, he said he noticed that many of the church members who spoke in favor of the rezoning do not live in Denver. Some of them, however, have been long-term residents of West Highland.
Lopez said he had never experienced such a negative, disrespectful public hearing.
“I’ve seen some pretty bad public hearings, but I haven’t been at a public hearing where there’s been this much snickering back and forth, especially on council,” Lopez said.
“I did not like the snickering,” Lopez said. He said council members themselves need to show more “decorum.”
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