Design review proposed for NW Denver


Design review proposed for District 1.

Design review funding sought by Councilman Espinoza.

Design review in District 1 would be a model for the city.

Design Review

West Highland is an area of District 1 that could benefit from design review, according to Councilman Espinoza. Shown is the retail strip off West 32nd Avenue, where 5-story apartment buildings are under construction on Lowell Boulevard and Meade Street.

A city-imposed design review could be coming to Northwest Denver for the first time.

District 1 Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who represents the Northwest Denver area, took the first step for design review for some new developments on Friday.

At a half-day City Council budget retreat, he submitted a request for 16 full-time employees at Community Planning and Development to fund his request, which also would call for an overlay district. CPD had no comment on Friday.

The staff cost for a year would be $1.6 million, he said.

“That is a huge ask,” Espinoza said.

However, he said he would be willing to settle for two additional employees on top of the four already proposed for CPD, at a cost of about $500,000.

If implemented, he said his proposal would “lay the roadmap to improved community and development relations and a more cohesive development plan for Northwest Denver.”

“By being respectful of the past and committed to our future, residents and developers will be able to work together to create a model for stable neighborhoods,” he added.

design review

Another view of the apartments under construction in West Highland.

While details still need to be hammered out, he said he suspects the design review would be especially warranted in established neighborhoods such as West Highland, Berkeley, Sunnyside and Regis.

“There would be more flexibility (and less need for design review) in places like West Colfax and Chaffee Park,” he said.

Jefferson Park, where he lives and has been controversial for all the new development, has become so built-up that a design review wouldn’t be much help, he said.

“Jefferson Park is a lost cause. The train has already sort of left the station,” Espinoza said.

For example, if his plan had been in place, it most likely would not have saved the so-called Anderson House from being razed to make way for new home, he said.

“The fact of the matter is that Jefferson Park is so prominent and so close to the city that it is an area that is quickly being transformed,” Espinoza said.

“The market pressures that make Jefferson Park desirable are shifting the outcome and the nature of that civic realm,” he said.

Still, he said he would hate to see the many historic homes on his street, and homes on other streets in Jefferson Park, torn down and replaced with new developments.

He said one of the goals of his plan is to make District 1 more pedestrian friendly and walkable.

He said he is not sure if a new design review board would be needed or if it could “glom on to an existing board.”

design review

Councilman Rafael Espinoza is seeking funding for design review in District 1, which he says would create a ‘roadway” for stable neighborhoods.

He noted that District 1 is not unique in having design review requirements. Design review is required in Cherry Creek North, downtown and Stapleton, he said, as well as in Curtis Park.

Design review standards also are in the works at Arapahoe Square and in RiNo, he said.

“Like when you have historic preservation, with design review I think you find you typically have better outcomes than without it,” said Espinoza, who is believed to be the first architect to ever serve on the City Council.

He said he expects a mixed reaction from developers.

“I would expect those that generally who like to put up egregious buildings would oppose it and those who put more thought and work to have their development fit in with the neighborhood context, would generally welcome it,” Espinoza said.

He said the initial response from a number of his fellow council members is that they didn’t have a problem with the concept, but there were concerns that it was targeting District 1 and not citywide.

“I tried to explain to them that this would have ramifications citywide,” Espinoza said.

That is because District 1 is in a unique position and lessons learned would serve as a model for the entire city, he said.

“District 1 has experienced the most gentrification of any area in the city in the past five years,” he said.

Northwest Denver also has facing a huge number of short-term rentals and a significant number of non-conforming marijuana operations, he said.

“In a perfect world,” these disparate issues could be addressed with design review and overlay districts, he said.

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at is sponsored by 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

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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, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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