East Colfax Avenue

A portion of East Colfax Avenue in Denver that the city has targeted for redevelopment.

Small business owners from Denver’s East Colfax corridor came together on Wednesday to share the challenges they’re experiencing in the face of development plans they say could change the heart of their neighborhood.

Denver’s East Area Plan, which is in its final drafting stage, focuses on neighborhoods of East Colfax, Hale, Montclair and South Park Hill. It is one of 19 plans that Denver aims to complete over a period of 10 to 14 years while upholding three core values: intentionality, equitability and measurability.

Not everyone views the plans unfolding that way, including the East Colfax Community Collective (ECCC), a grassroots organization that formed in response to the lack of participation of communities of color in the city’s planning process.

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“In the East Colfax neighborhood, our small businesses are our neighbors who are intimately connected with our community, making them an integral part of our identity,” spokesman Nebiyu Asfaw said in a statement. “We want to ensure our local businesses thrive and remain in this neighborhood. Our community’s fate is intertwined with our small businesses.”

The ECCC met with small businesses on Wednesday morning at a long-standing neighborhood restaurant in East Colfax, the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant. Many local business leaders said that they were unaware of the city’s East Area Plan and “fearful of the consequences.”

Cherlyn Haliburton, who’s owned a Christian bookstore in the neighborhood for 20 years, said her property taxes doubled since last year, increasing to $15,000.

“What we are looking for is property tax relief,” she said. “Right now, all we can do is take what we need and put it back into the business.”

During the Wednesday gathering, business leaders expressed the need for more accountability on the city’s part and a greater say for local communities when it comes to making decisions about the direction of development in their neighborhoods.

Some of their recommendations include providing legal support to prevent involuntary displacement, protecting legacy businesses by means of low-interest financing and direct subsidies, expanding property tax relief to vulnerable businesses and reducing predatory lending practices.

“Right now, we are waiting to see if the East Area Plan is really going to be a neighborhood plan driven by the residents of the community,” spokeswoman Towanna Henderson said in a statement. “The ball is now in [Denver Community Planning and Development’s] court, and we are hopeful they will restore faith in our community, and faith in the planning process, by incorporating our recommendations into the final draft.”

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