There has been a lot of coverage concerning the Denver City Council’s decision to approve rezoning to allow a mixed-use development on the site of the old Colorado Department of Transportation Headquarters campus.
I had not visited the CDOT building for years, so I drove there yesterday to take a look. It is surrounded by a chain-link fence, with a big roll-off at the front door. Also, I wandered around the neighborhood, since was I curious to see how this new development would work with a neighborhood of single-family homes in Virginia Village. I think the neighbors are going to have an interesting time.
The CDOT campus, designed by T.H. Buell & Company, Inc., is at 4201 East Arkansas Avenue, two blocks from South Colorado Boulevard and within the Virginia Village/Ellis neighborhood. Temple Hoyne Buell designed hundreds of buildings, most of them in Colorado, from the Paramount Theatre (with Rapp and Rapp) and the Mullen Nurses Home with its exuberant brick work, to the original groundbreaking Cherry Creek Shopping Center to numerous schools in Denver (such as Whiteman and Kunsmiller) and beyond. But the CDOT headquarters, low-slung and with outstretched arms, is now destined to go to its eternal oblivion. CDOT now has a new headquarters, south of Mile High Stadium.
The developer, the Kentro Group, here known as KRF Arkansas, LLC, has agreed to include at least 150 below-market apartments and 150,000 square feet of commercial space in the new project. The rezoning will allow “suburban mixed-use” at heights ranging from three to eight floors, with lower heights near the edges, according to the Denver Post. Also, “the project could include up to about 1,000 homes in total, depending on the market,” according to one of the Kentro co-founders.
That’s right: Two blocks from one of the most heavily traveled major streets in the city, there will be more development. I understand the lure of a developer constructing below-market housing. But there’s something here I do not understand.
From years of watching the Denver City Council in action, the council person who represents a district involved in a vote has received some support from other council members. That didn’t happen here; I guess times have changed, since the city is the middleman here. Paul Kashmann, District 6, was the only “no” vote, and was quoted as saying, “We’ve got the right developer and we’ve got the right concept. For me, we’ve got the wrong zoning,” adding that the plan was too dense with too much traffic. Virginia Village is in his district.
According to a comment following the on-line Denver Post story of Dec. 4, reporter Andrew Kenney offered some context: “The city was able to negotiate terms because they are the middleman in purchasing the land from CDOT. The city had the right of first refusal on the property because it is currently a state government property. (That’s just how the law is.) The city then arranged a complex deal in which they will essentially re-sell the land to Kentro — and the conditions of that re-sale were that Kentro must agree to certain affordability goals.” In a separate comment, he said the other party interested in purchasing the CDOT site was the Public Works Department.
Kentro described its plan as “a multi-phased pedestrian friendly, urban, mixed-use development with residential, commercial, and retail uses, and a variety of publicly accessible and usable open space.”
That’s a wake-up call for neighborhoods all over Denver.
For more information about the project, the first link below leads to the KRF Arkansas, LLC / Kentro Group’s lengthy application for rezoning and a review criteria narrative submitted in May 2018. This document recaps several meetings involving the developer and the community that will live with the project. The document was prepared by Norris Design, but I look forward to learning who will be planning and designing this development.
Below that are links to stories in The Denver Post, Denverite, and the Glendale/Cherry Creek Chronicle, as well as an aerial view of the site.