East Colfax Avenue

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

Denver's big plans for Colfax are not going over well with everyone.

The city released drafted recommendations in May for development in and around the Park Hill and Montclair neighborhoods along Colfax Avenue. Those recommendations include encouraging affordable housing additions, supporting new business growth, and updating design around new transportation options.

Some residents have raised concerns over the city urbanizing the area and increasing the population density near an already busy street.

"We have many examples around Denver of very expensive condos coming in and changing what neighborhoods look like," said Caroline Carolan, Park Hill resident. "We’re taking away the family-oriented neighborhoods that Denver had."

A major question is whether the city will ultimately ease regulations on high-rise buildings, potentially allowing for up to eight stories in an area that currently has many one-story homes.

"They want Colfax to be a community gathering place, and the character of high rises does not have that community feeling," said Park Hill resident Blair Taylor.

Carolan and Taylor are two of five members of Denver East Area Neighborhoods First, a self-organized group of residents who want a voice in the proposed changes to their area.

The group's primary point of contention with the plan is that it is "not well thought out," said Taylor, noting that she thinks the new developments will raise rents and push out the current community.

"We are one of the last neighborhoods that can really support working class people," Taylor said. "We all want to see these neighborhoods be just as diverse and inclusive as they’ve always been, but not at the cost of displacing the people who live here or ruining the character of the neighborhood."

Not everyone agrees.

Dmitrii Zavorotny, treasurer for Denver's chapter of Yes in My Backyard (YIMBY), a national organization that formed in response to those opposing local development around the country, says that it is common for people to be wary of change in their neighborhoods, but that it is necessary for all areas around Denver to adapt to the influx of incoming population.

“There’s tons of folks moving here, and they're moving here because we a great economy and lots of jobs," said Zavorotny, who lives in northern Park Hill, just outside of the East Area plan zone. "They want to live in the city, not the plains; they want to be close to work and maybe ditch their car if they can. But we're really not giving those folks a lot of those opportunities.”

He says there is a lot of misinformation being spread the East Area plan, and people are misunderstanding its purpose. He noted that changes being recommended are merely "gentle urban" developments.

“The majority of the folks in opposition are not familiar with how things get developed in a city," Zavorotny said. “The plan is not going to ruin their way of life or change their neighborhood."

One of the priorities of the plan is to encourage the development of affordable housing. Taylor and Carolan say they are in support of affordable housing but lack trust that developers will follow through, pointing out the luxury condominiums they see being built elsewhere in Denver.

"We need to guarantee what kind of variety of housing we are going to get," Taylor said, noting that she already thinks of these neighborhoods as affordable when compared to the rest of Denver. "(Park Hill) is one of last neighborhoods where people can actually afford to own a home."

Every neighborhood should encourage affordable housing development in order to meet the needs of a diverse population, Zavorotny said, stating that the changes are important to evolve the city out of historically racist zoning policies that divided rich, white families into single-home neighborhoods and communities of color into urbanized ones.

“At the end of the day, I think it's more fair if we all come together and say everybody’s welcome of all incomes and backgrounds rather then being priced out," he said.

Though he doesn't think the majority of the opposition has any racist intent, he does think many people are simply "afraid of change."

The city has been working on these recommendations for two years and used survey results as well as community meetings to develop them. 

However, Carolan and Taylor said that the online survey did not reach enough residents.

"They bypassed our neighborhoods," Carolan said.

The city utilizes their website, social media and email lists for survey results, said Alex Foster, communications representative for Denver. With this recent feedback, they do plan on using mail-outs to inform the east neighborhoods of the next community input meeting, to be held sometime in October.

“We totally get that it’s frustrating when there’s something happening in your neighborhood and you don't know about it, but we do our best," Foster said. "Our resources are not unlimited."

Senior City Planner Liz Weigle emphasized that the draft has not yet been formed into a plan, and there will still be opportunity to provide input before that happens.

"The recommendations had a lot of information in them, so people absorbed it and thought it was happening tomorrow; it’s not," Weigle said. "We're still months away from a final product.”

Once the proposals are formed into a draft plan, that will go through one more round of community input before moving on to City Council, which will trigger public process to approve updates to the city code and zoning regulations based on the plan's recommendations.

"The idea is that the plan guides future regulations and policies," Foster said. “There is a level of detail this plan isn’t meant to provide; it’s really just a general guide for what the community wants to see happen here over the next couple of decades."

The city does appreciate the residents' dedication and involvement, Foster said.

"We understand people are protective of their neighborhood; they love their neighborhood and that's why they're so passionate," Foster said. "We want to harness that."

The city might have a long way to go in winning the approval of residents currently in opposition of the plan.

"We need to see really concrete ways that this is gonna work, not these undefined blanket zoning recommendations," Taylor said. "It’s just not enough for people who live here and have invested their lives here and really wanna see quality, thoughtful planning."

"Do the best job that you can do instead of doing the least amount of work and hoping for the best," she added. "It’s just not a good way to run a city."

However, others have said they already support the plan. Anna DeWitt, another member of YIMBY, emphasized the potential environmental benefits of supporting higher-density populations.

"We no longer have the option, nor should we have the option to oppose higher density in our cities," DeWitt wrote in an email. "The lack of housing, lack of affordable housing, and lack of public transit has directly and negatively impacted our working class, lower class and our communities of color. We are pushing people into the suburbs. We are killing our planet."

Taylor and Carolan said they hope the city will come out with more details in their meeting next October, which they both plan on attending.

“Everybody should have a voice in the future of their neighborhood," Carolan said.

(1) comment

catcarolan@Mac.com

For the record, the Yimby members quoted in this article do not live within the East Area Plan. The East Area Plan is looking to rezone and redevelopment approximately 10-15 percent of the East Area while leaving the remaining 85-90 percent as is. Denver East Neighborhood First believes this puts a tremendous burden in this targeted area to absorb the majority of density and development of the Plan. Accordingly, Denver East Neighborhood First is asking for detailed plans and data to ensure that the city's goals of affordable housing, improving infrastructure- street, pedestrian, and cycling--, retaining small local businesses and improving the community benefits along the Colfax Corridor can be objectively met. It is my opinion if the city is serious about improving affordable housing and infrastructure they would not limit their recommendations to a very small area of the East Area Plan and distribute the good and bad of density and development throughout the East Area and Metro Denver.


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