St. Anthony’s Redevelopment Stirs Zoning Controversy

By Chad Reischl

When St. Anthony’s Hospital moved out of the West Colfax neighborhood to a new facility in Lakewood, it left the community with an opportunity for a large redevelopment project. The property was purchased by EnviroFinance Group, a horizontal developer, which is currently in the process of demolishing the hospital and setting plans in place for individual parcels to be sold to vertical developers. The General Development Plan (GDP) planning process has been going on for nearly a year and a half and is scheduled to go before the Denver Planning Board for final review in mid-November. Recently, a small group of local citizens who has concerns over the size, scale and layout of the project, has latched on to a discrepancy in the interpretation of the city’s zoning code and is rallying together to fight the project on this ground.

The discrepancy centers on the interpretation of the Open Space requirement proposed in the City’s GDP process. Before getting into the issue, however, here’s Denver’s definition of a GDP for those who may not know what it entails.

12.4.12.1  A. A General Development Plan (GDP) establishes a framework for future land use and development and resulting public infrastructure. The GDP provides an opportunity to identify issues and the development’s relationship with significant public infrastructure improvements such as major multi-modal facilities and connections thereto, major utility facilities, and publicly accessible parks and open spaces. An approved GDP provides a master plan for coordinating development, infrastructure improvements, and regulatory decisions as development proceeds within the subject area. An approved GDP also constitutes a master plan that is a prerequisite to zoning within the Master Plan neighborhood

Under this clause in the city’s zoning code, there is a sub-clause regarding open space provision in the GDP. It reads:

12.4.12.5  A minimum of 10% of the total GDP area (including the Primary Area plus any Secondary Ar­eas) shall be included in the GDP as open space.

The statement above seems quite simple and straight forward, but as we shall see, the lack of any subsequent detail allows it to get quite cloudy very quickly. The problems are twofold: how do you define the GDP area and what concessions does the developer get for having to deed back land to the city in the form of streets.

The developer, in this case, wants to not only develop their parcel, but also improve the streetscape on the surrounding streets. Since the streets around the project contain a mixed bag of sidewalk infrastructure (some attached to the curb, some detached, some missing or in poor shape) and at least one street lacks parking on the development side, EFG wants to have control over their half of the street Right-of-Way (ROW) on the surrounding streets for these improvements. Additionally, they are proposing to create bulb-outs at the street corners for an improved pedestrian environment at the entrances to their development. In order to make these changes however, EFG needed to expand their GDP area to include these ROWs. Since this is not developable land and not land they purchased, EFG suggested that it should not be included in the “Total GDP area” that is used to define the amount of open space they need to provide.

The second issue is internal to the site. When the developer bought the St Anthony’s site, part of what they purchased was a super-block within Denver’s existing street grid (they also purchased one stand-alone block). The West Colfax Plan (created after the announcement that St. A’s was moving) insisted that the street grid be reintroduced to this super block. In other words, EFG needs to divide the super-block into six blocks and give a significant portion of their land back to the city as a re-created street grid. By my calculation, this eliminates approximately 15% of the property they purchased. The developer is arguing that the city’s open space requirement should not apply to land that they are giving back to the city in the form of the streets, tree lawns, sidewalks and sidewalk amenity zones that they are creating for the citizens of Denver.

Essentially, the developer is arguing that the total required open space on the property be limited to 10% of the “Net” GDP area (or in other words the land they can physically develop). Consequently, the GDP shows a fraction more than 10% of the “net” project area dedicated to open space. The city planners (at the moment) are in agreement that this is a reasonable application of the standard and the GDP is about to go to the planning board for final hearing on November 20, 2013.

A group of local citizens has recently decided to protest this application on the grounds that the city has an insufficient amount of open space and that the developer should not be allowed to create 10% “net” open space but rather be mandated to dedicate 10% of the total “gross” area to open space. They believe that we, as a city, do not have many chances to increase the amount of publicly accessible open space and that this is one of our best opportunities to get this needed land (essentially for free) from the developer. Therefore, we must do everything we can to ensure that they provide us with the maximum amount of open space dictated by the zoning code.

Another local group is siding with the developer, saying that we have plenty of open space in the neighborhood (the development is right across the street from one of Denver’s largest parks) and not enough quality “urban space” (i.e. walkable streets and plazas for gatherings, which are included in the plan). They feel that using the “net GDP area” to determine open space is being fair to the developer who has been asked to create a lot of streets and pedestrian amenities in the development. They also argue that creating too much open space within the development will not serve to create the kind of dense, pedestrian friendly, urban development they’d like to see in the neighborhood, and create additional spaces that could host the kind of criminal activities (i.e. prostitution and drugs) that currently happen within the neighborhood.

What do you think?

~~~

Chad Reischl is an aspiring urban planner with a background in architecture and landscape design.  He has a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning from UC-Denver with an emphasis in urban place making and economic development.  Chad is currently a resident of the West Colfax Neighborhood of Denver and is co-president of the West Colfax Association of Neighbors (WeCAN).  He is dedicated to creating sustainable, healthy, and well connected urban communities for future generations to enjoy.

By | 2016-12-27T21:14:00+00:00 October 30, 2013|Categories: Infrastructure, Parks & Public Spaces, Urban Planning, Zoning|Tags: |15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Larry October 30, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Creating a quality walkable neighborhood next to a very large city park and reconnecting the street grid would benefit the neighborhood more that would adding more parks. Hopefully, the city will not be swayed by the neighbors who do not understand this.

    • Dave Barnes November 3, 2013 at 10:06 am

      Excellent point.

    • Nathanael November 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      What Larry said. “Open space” is not inherently valuable — just ask Manhattan. The important thing is to have some *high quality* open space, and it’s cool if you have high quality *closed space* right next to it.

  2. eliza October 31, 2013 at 3:43 am

    Good question! You’ve provided many details, but I think we need more to fully clarify EFG’s bargaining power. It seems though as EFG had purchased the property after the West Colfax plan was developed. One of EFG’s management staff was also involved in the creation of the West Colfax plan, so in all honesty, EFG should know better at this point. However, setting this last argument aside, it is great that EFG is showing flexibility on this matter. Regardless of any buyer or developer of this site, and their prior affiliations, it is not fair to them to have such a high level of uncertainty over the determination of the amount of open space required.
    Is it possible that Denver, or the West Colfax redevelopment authority could/ would enter into a private-public partnership with EFG to assist in the infrastructure improvement costs of connecting the neighbourhood street grid?
    It only seems fair that EFG receive monetary compensation for the land that has to donate back to the city in this event. Is this already part of the equation, or is EFG required to foot the entire bill on this?
    If EFG is held to providing 10% open space based total GDP, has anyone considered the option of creating public accessible recreation space on proposed building rooftops that would align the newly redeveloped 16th street (e.g. sports fields, tennis courts, skate parks) that can be accessed via pedestrian raps from street. If the roof tops are incorporated, then the amount of buildable land would not be reduced in order to provide additional open space. The scope of this should produce a similar, but smaller feel as the Highline canal project in New York City, or the Jardin de Reuilly along the Coulée Vert in Paris.

    • Chad October 31, 2013 at 12:23 pm

      Eliza,
      The infrastructure for the project is being funded through a “metropolitan district” that is overlaid over the site. The district will collect additional tax revenue from the new properties in the district over the next 20 or so years to payback the cost of the new streets.

  3. Brian Reischl October 31, 2013 at 9:03 am

    It seems unfair to count land the developer won’t control as part of their land. It also seems shortsighted. This would send a message to future developers that giving up space for public amenities like restoring the street grid, or adding sidewalks and treelawns gets them no credit, so they’ll try hard to avoid doing those things.

    And really, what’s the actual difference in open space? 1.5% of the area of the lot can’t amount to that much.

    PS, I have no relation to the author that I’m aware of, but there aren’t that many Reischl’s running around so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one. Hi Chad! 🙂

  4. Wendy R October 31, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Hi Chad,

    From the information you provided, I have to say that I’m going to side with the developer on this one. Adding back the street grid on land they paid to purchase lowers their ROI and I support that they are already planning to offer nice street amenities in addition to restoring the grid. Density is important to supporting businesses that make our neighborhoods better places to live, we are seeing it in the RiNo area right now and it is only leading to good things more shops, coffee houses, retuarants, bars, etc. As a bike commuter and frequent walker I highly value quality street scapes (like the 14th Street updates made in downtown over the last few years). Plus even if they add in open space, I’m not sure who would spend a significant amount of time there when Sloan’s lake is relatively close.
    Thanks for the information.

  5. Niccolo Casewit November 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Rockefeller Center-Gardens and Public Spaces
    More than 3 acres of open space of 22 TOTAL GDP AREA
    (area includes all streets.)
    From the National Registry of Historic Places:
    The Gardens and walkways were one of the greatest urban design feats of the 20th
    century. The complex went up in the height of the great Depression so the sacrifice
    of rental space to public gardens was unheard of. In addition to 2 acres of open
    space in a congested building area there are extra-width sidewalks and some seating
    for pedestrians. All Rockefeller Center buildings are connected underground and
    there are two miles of corridors lined with shops. There is also an entrance to
    the subway system. The Channel Gardens between the French and British buildings
    are always beautifully landscaped. The traffic-free passage from Fifth Avenue is
    200 feet in length and slants down toward the open plaza, both of which act as a
    kind of outdoor lobby for the RCA Building rising from the plaza. In the center of
    the Plaza is the glittering Prometheus by Paul Manship. There is a popular ice
    skating rink at the base of the Plaza.
    The roof-top gardens are one of the most successful of all of the Centers innovations,
    reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The plan called for a wide
    variety of gardens spread over all the buildings and connected by roof level bridges
    seven acres in all. There was also to be a restaurant, music conservatory,
    sculpture exhibit, and marionette theater. Financial problems ensued and some of
    the gardens survived but the roof bridges never materialized.

    • Brent November 2, 2013 at 6:34 pm

      And if the developer was proposing (and the neighborhood would, in anybody’s wildest fantasies, allow) Midtown Manhattan-type densities, we would have a very different discussion about the need for yet more open space. As it stands, we have a low-density neighborhood, a moderate density development proposal, and a very large amount of open space nearby. The comparison is completely inapplicable. There is no need for any more open space there.

      • Nathanael November 3, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        People in Midtown Manhattan don’t demand more “open space” — they go to Central Park.

        This tells you something important about “open space”. It’s best in fairly large quantities.

        • Niccolo Casewit November 6, 2013 at 10:52 pm

          Try the plaza hotel on central park—the plaza is a real plaza.

  6. Niccolo Casewit November 6, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Where will the children play?
    SSL GDP St. Anthony’s Hospital Redevelopment
    How much is enough open space? Gross area versus net area? The children don’t care where it “came from” they just want a place not too far from their home or apartment, perhaps within view of some apartment in a publicly accessible place. Some of it might be programmed, other areas simple softer green-scape, and yet other areas hard-scaped with places for parents and even grandparents to relax.
    Other “open-space” must include public plazas with a view of the lake and the mountains. Perhaps a “staging area” or a play-date “base camp” to explore the larger Sloan.s Lake on B-cycle, or by foot.
    How much is enough? Since the early part of 20th century the right amount open space for a particular population has depended in part on the context and the expectations of a suburban rather than Urban Market— In large subdivisions and tracts, new towns etc. the reserved amount of parkland could be as much as 30% of the gross total land area being developed for a mix of uses.
    The American Planning Association (APA) came up with figure of 10 Acres of open space for every 1,000 people with direct neighborhood access. That’s about 435 square feet per person.
    Currently the World Health organization WHO calls for 25 sq. meters per person in urban locations. The City of Denver, the Comprehensive plan aspires to providing 8 to 9 Acres of parkland, open space, playgrounds per 1,000 inhabitants of the city.
    The West Colfax Area Plan documents the fact that there is only between 2.6 and 5.4 acres of park and open space available to the neighborhood—much of it compromised by the RTD Westline, and high-voltage lines at the Lakewood dr Gulch.

    Any increase in population only reduces the amount of open space for current residents—unless additional open space is provided. It’s true that Sloan’s lake is Denver’s 3rd largest Park—but out of a total of 284 acres, 174 acres—over 50% of that area is water surface . At the St. Anthony’s site the shoreline is relatively narrow at 150 feet at the Perry Street Parking to 300 feet wide where the tennis courts currently exist.
    Looking for 10 acres of new open space at Sloans lake to accommodate at least 1,000 new young and active residents is unlikely to be found any time soon. Filling in the lake is unpractical, and walking on water only for Prophets not small children and their grand parents.
    The current SSL. GDP is providing a mere 1.41 Acres of open space which translates to 5.6% of the TOTAL GDP Area. by comparison the streets (R.OW.s) both existing and proposed in the GDP equal 44% of the GROSS GDP Area (Over 11 Acres of streets!). Public works has their priorities certainly—but should streets really be occupying almost 7 TIMES the land area as Open space ? Where will the children play? Hopefully the answer is NOT “in the streets” or in front of businesses, bars, and cafes.
    We can do better and we have done better. Making urban places family-friendly should be everyone’s highest priority.

    While there needs to be some flexibility in planning for a variety of contexts the notion of basing the “minimum open space” required on an undefined “net area” residual — by subtracting R.O.W.s means mathematically speaking that: The more streets built on the Site the less open space is required. This is illogical. So we will use the real estate development industry convention and compare a few recent Denver Projects accordingly and express the Open space provided as a % of total GROSS Site Development land area.
    In the Neighborhood:
    Highland’s Garden Village (PUD) 11 % of Gross Site Area (Urban context)
    Denver Union Station (GDP sub-area) 13.7 % of Gross Site Area (Commercial Context)
    Buckley Annex (GDP subdivision) 19 % of Gross Site Area (Urban Edge Context)
    Historic Urban Example from NYC:
    Rockefeller Center Plaza 15% of Gross Site Area (1930s Mid-town Manhattan)

    Why is the proposed St. Anthony’s Redevelopment only 5.6% of Gross Site Area? (Urban Edge Context)
    Where will the children play?

  7. Niccolo Casewit November 20, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    For the Record:
    Sloan’s lake park is 174 acres of water surface, and 110 acres of shoreline and park.

  8. Niccolo Casewit December 13, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Letter from JPUN December 13, 2013
    Denver Planning Board
    Community Planning and Development
    201 W. Colfax Ave., Dept. 205
    Denver, CO 80202
    To Planning Board Members,
    The Board of Directors of Jefferson Park United Neighbors (JPUN), the Registered
    Neighborhood Organization (RNO) for the Jefferson Park area east of Sloan’s
    Lake, submits this letter to the Planning Board expressing our position on the
    South Sloan Lake (St. Anthony’s) General Development Plan in advance of your
    hearing on the matter on December 18, 2013.
    At a recent Board Meeting of JPUN, we heard from two other RNOs immediately
    bordering the area affected by the GDP. These RNOs took differing positions on
    the GDP and the issues of density and open space that are of concern to
    various members of the community. We did not have a presentation at the
    Board Meeting from the developer, EnviroFinance Group (EFG), but some
    members of the Board had heard the developer’s presentation in other settings
    and have spoken to their representative Cameron Bertran about this issue.
    After hearing from the RNO representatives, the JPUN Board discussed their
    position afterwards. There was a great deal of consensus on the part of the
    Board in support of the plain reading of the DZC which requires “A minimum of
    10% of the total GDP area” and further requires that the open space “shall be
    provided in one (1) or more areas” and that it “shall remain publicly accessible
    and usable”.
    The Board found it compelling that the proper interpretation of the plain
    language of the DZC requires the measurement of open space to be based on
    total square footage of the project, not net, and we have concerns about the
    inconsistent application of this requirement in other city projects. We see this as
    an important issue not only for this project, but as an important city-wide issue as
    high-density developments are actively encouraged and pursued in many parts
    of Denver, including our own in Jefferson Park. JPUN feels very strongly that
    clear requirements to include adequate open space in large projects is critical
    to maintaining the quality and livability of Denver.
    While our Board felt strongly that the open space requirement should be based
    on the gross square footage of the project, not net, the Board also felt that the
    developer should be allowed some leeway for creativity in how they met that
    requirement within the full language and requirements of the Code.
    Thank you for your consideration.
    Sincerely,
    Geoffrey R. Archambeau
    President
    Jefferson Park United Neighbors

  9. Niccolo Casewit December 21, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    To be clear—We are YIMBYs:
    Do it the right way ! Open space, tiered buildings, and create a multicultural town center facing the lake.

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