To accommodate all the related residents, retailers, office folk and consumers such a development would attract, a series of towers rising up toward eight stories in height could overlook the surrounding West Washington Park and Baker neighborhoods on S. Broadway and W. Alameda Ave., with taller structures up to 12 stories set as little as one-half block off those main thoroughfares.
Much of the land included in the plan is home to the Broadway Marketplace at Alameda and Broadway (Sam’s Club, Albertsons, Kmart, Pep Boys, Ace Hardware, etc.), and the Denver Design District, situated to the south between the Marketplace and I-25. CF Development currently owns the 80.31 acres comprising the two parcels. Also covered under the Alameda Station Plan is the former RTD bus depot site south of Alameda Ave. between the rail line and Santa Fe Dr., as well as a portion of the Baker neighborhood located north of Alameda Ave., and a sliver of the West Washington Park community situated east of Broadway.
Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development is in the midst of a wide-ranging effort to create guidelines for the construction expected to spring up all along our burgeoning mass transit system. “Right now, we’re doing planning for a dozen rail stations,” said Caryn Wenzara, CPD’s project manager for the Alameda Station Plan.
After nearly two years of fact-finding and debate, CPD recently rolled out an initial draft version of the Alameda Station Plan, and, as might be expected, its commitment to increasing density near the rail line has caused plenty of raised eyebrows and concerned questions from local neighbors.
Charlie Busch is president of the West Washington Park Neighborhood Association. At a recent public meeting called to take comment on the draft plan, Busch urged interested participants to be realistic in their assessments. “Saying we don’t want anything there, or (asking for) all one-story buildings, is not an option,” she cautioned. Wenzara explained that though the transit-oriented development tenets guiding the planning process do call for maximizing density, planners have already “dialed back” building height substantially after input from the project’s advisory group informed city staffers of deep-seated community concerns.
The current B-3 zoning over much of the site in question puts no hard limits on building height, but most of the redevelopment area is constrained by the Washington Park view plane ordinance, which protects the mountain views from Washington Park. According to Wenzara, the formula used to calculate the allowable height would prevent construction of buildings over 14 stories within the Alameda Station Plan boundaries.
Busch said that WWPNA will commission a sound study to determine if the buildings that could be built on either side of I-25 as a result of both the Cherokee/Gates redevelopment, and the Alameda Station Plan, could result in increased noise being funneled into surrounding neighborhoods.
While less dramatic, preliminary drawings show recommended building height ranging from two to five stories on the east side of Broadway south of Alameda Ave., which has also become also a bone of contention for West Washington Park neighbors. “Whatever happens along the edges of the plan area needs to protect any area of stability that it borders. We’ll need to revisit that (building height) element with the focus group,” said Wenzara.
CF Property Management is currently working separately with the city and surrounding neighborhoods to finalize details of a General Development Plan for its property. GDPs go into more detail as to land use, infrastructure, etc. than do area plans. Wenzara says it’s important that the Alameda Station Plan is in place before that GDP is approved.
“All of our plans are just that. They have no legal force of law,” said Wenzara. “However, if a developer comes before City Council for a property rezoning, it will be considered in light of adopted plans. They can tweak things as any developer will, but the Design District will need to respect the intent of the Alameda Station plan.”
Initial iterations of the GDP indicate buildings as high as 14 stories in the interior portion of the site, and as high as 10 stories along Broadway, which runs afoul of the existing Alameda Station Plan guidelines which top out at eight stories on the margins and 12 stories at the project’s core. “That’s a conflict we’ll need to resolve as the process moves forward,” said Wenzara.
As envisioned at present, the Design District proposal calls for 8-10 million square feet of total build-out, including 3-4 million square feet of commercial property (office, retail, hotel); 4.5-6 million square feet of residential (2,800-3,700 units); 150-200,000 square feet of educational use (the site currently hosts the Art Institute of Colorado’s School of Culinary Arts); and some 89,000 square feet of existing industrial uses.
Ensuring that any development within the Alameda Station Plan area includes appropriate use of open space is high on the priority list for many area residents. The city requires 10 percent of a development to be devoted to that end. While a variety of green space is included in the Alameda Station Plan (including a parkway connecting it with the Broadway Station to the south), Busch explains that the lack of a clear definition of “open space” leaves loopholes for developers to sidestep the intention of the 10 percent requirement.
“The Design District wants to count sidewalks as open space in their calculations,” she stated, “and Planning goes along with this.” Busch feels open space needs to be “clearly defined as ‘recreational space and a place to gather.’ I can’t see a sidewalk fitting that definition. Planning says they allow the sidewalks to be included as an incentive to developers to build wider sidewalks, but if we allow them to include sidewalks in their calculations, then down the road they could eliminate real open space and still make the numbers work by counting the sidewalks.”
Karen Cuthbertson is a member of the Board of Directors of the Athmar Park Neighborhood Association, representing neighbors living to the west of the Alameda station. She echoes Busch’s sentiments. “I understand developers need to maximize profits, but I think in the case of the Design District they’re maximizing profit by redefining open space to mean something other than what in the long term it ought to be. I think that short-changes everybody. The language in the zoning code talks of ‘usable open space.’ I don’t know what you can use a sidewalk for, other than a sidewalk.”
Cuthbertson is also worried that the recently completed NEPA traffic study of the S. Broadway corridor did not take into account anticipated traffic from redevelopment around Alameda Station. “The thing I am not comfortable with is that the traffic from this (the Design District GDP and Alameda Station Plan) already overwhelms the Broadway NEPA study – it overwhelms the top traffic planned for, and there hasn’t been any talk about reopening (the study). Unfortunately, we were artificially constrained during the NEPA project. Everybody wanted to go farther north and south, and not design for the Cherokee/Lionstone projects in a vacuum.”
Steve Harley is chairperson of the Baker Historic Neighborhood Association’s Zoning Committee. He said that the Baker Neighborhood Plan calls for Transit Oriented Development south of Alameda. “While I haven’t looked closely enough at building height as of yet, it appears (the Baker Neighborhood Plan) is generally consistent with what’s being proposed.” However, Harley believes more groundwork must be done before moving forward with a broad-brush shift from commercial to residential land use, which the Alameda Station Plan recommends for a section of Baker situated north of Alameda Ave.
“Northwest of Cherokee St. and Alameda Ave. is an area that’s kind of underused and complicated,” said Harley. “Most of it is commercial. In our neighborhood plan we talked about a mix of residential and commercial.
“The Alameda Station Plan calls for most of that area to be residential and I don’t know if the industrial property owners are yet awake to this. It would be easier if they didn’t fight it, but they fought for their rights as owners during work on the Baker Plan and we kind of have a commitment to support them.
“We do want to see something happen there, but if it’s going to have a lot of new residential use, it will create problems for existing street configuration, and we want to see some solutions that address specifics of the infrastructure needed. What we’d like to see is something that really tackles the traffic situation head on. I’m not seeing that yet.”
Harley says BHNA also hopes to see the plan include improved access to the main redevelopment area from north of Alameda. “There’s talk of using the abandoned railroad bridge across Alameda, as well as ‘boulevarding’ Alameda itself, to make it more pedestrian-friendly as a crossing point.”
Baker residents have also expressed dismay at the Alameda Station Plan’s call for eight-story towers (12 stories in the Design Center GDP) at Alameda and Broadway to create a “gateway” to the new development. “Creating such an urban feel concerns a lot of people,” said Harley.
BHNA is still considering details of the plan as it evolves. “My personal opinion is, if they can get density to work there (around the rail station), it’s probably one of the better places in the city to do it from a practical standpoint, considering where we need to be as a city in 15 years or so. Overall it makes so much sense.”
Harley echoes Wenzara’s concern that the Alameda Plan be in place before any GDP is approved for the Denver Design District/Broadway Marketplace property. “The neighborhood wants the Alameda Station Plan completed first. It has a wider scope to address issues north of Alameda Ave., while the Design District GDP ends at Alameda.”
While neighbors to the north and east of the development site seem most concerned with a complex array of height and density issues, residents to the west are at least as concerned with improving access to the new development.
“They’ve got a river, a rail line and a highway to clear,” said Wenzara. Improvements to Alameda Ave., and pedestrian bridges across existing barriers are options being considered for facilitating access for westside residents.
For details on the Alameda Station Plan, visit www.denvergov.org/tod.