East Colfax Avenue

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

Like it or not, Denver's East Colfax Neighborhood is destined for a makeover.

The City Council on Monday night approved an urban redevelopment plan for roughly 80 acres along East Colfax Avenue over objections from area residents that the renewal effort could ultimately gentrify the corridor and oust longtime locals.

The council voted 11-2 to approve the plan, with councilwomen Stacie Gilmore and Candi CdeBaca opposed.

"This conversation tonight is easy. Colfax needs the support," said Councilman Chris Herndon. "We cannot do enough to serve these people — people who’ve been neglected for a very long time."

The plan does not include any zoning changes or specific projects. Those will have to come to the council for individual approval, said Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority.

A study found that the area, bounded by Monaco Parkway on the east and Yosemite Street on the west, met many tenants of the statutory definition of "blight" — including deteriorating structures and unsanitary or unsafe conditions.

Huggins has pointed to frequent police calls to the area, sidewalks in disrepair, and vacant buildings, some with broken windows.

By approving the plan, the council also opted to make "tax increment financing" a tool that's available as it considers financing for future projects, said Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer. That method allows governments to set aside future sales and property tax revenues that result from new development to help pay for those projects.

"To not have that option available to us, I believe, is short-sighted," Sawyer said before the vote.

During a public hearing, some residents spoke in favor of the plan and its potential to breath new economic life into a corridor that's languishing as other Denver neighborhoods are booming with development.

But others urged the council not to pass the plan, expressing fears that the area, like Stapleton and other neighboring communities, could fall victim to gentrification.

Future projects could drive up property values and rent prices, driving away residents who are already struggling to make ends meet, they said.

"In the East Colfax neighborhood, many in the community feel that our fate is uncertain," said Nebiyu Asfaw, an area resident and leader in the Ethiopian community. "The writing is already on the wall. Denver is already becoming a different town — one that does not include us."

The council members who cast the dissenting votes argued that there aren't safeguards in place to protect East Colfax's existing residents — particularly those who are low-income or minority— as the plan moves forward.

"I’m very concerned because I haven’t heard tonight the plans that we need to really have in place to make sure that we are providing every resource possible to our residents and our businesses," Gilmore said. "We don’t know how this investment will affect the property values of single-family homes and businesses."

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