On paper, the redevelopment of the old Marriott hotel at Hampden Avenue and I-25 looks like a dream deal for southeast Denver, complete with luxury apartments boasting "curated amenities" and a "lazy river" winding through the place.
But Holly Ridge residents say that the project has been a nightmare for the neighborhood, involving months of traffic, debris and disruption, repeated violations of noise and safety codes, sewer backups, street and property damage — and an anemic response from city officials to their complaints.
"I live right across the street from it," says Greta Durr, president of the Holly Ridge Neighborhood Organization. "Laws aren't being enforced, and the properties are being developed in a high-density way that's having a lot of impact on this neighborhood."
Highpointe consists of three separate construction projects, slated for completion sometime next year. They include Veranda Highpointe, a 362-unit luxury apartment complex with spa, pool, bocce ball court, rooftop lounge and studios starting at $1,000 a month; Highpointe Assisted Living and Memory Care, a four-story retirement home; and the Shoppes at Highpointe, ye olde (but brande newe) strip of restaurants and retail.
Neighbors say they were prepared for some construction-related hassles. But they didn't expect the blocks around the development to become a de facto staging area, apparently because of a lack of parking for trucks and equipment on the intensely developed site. The most common complaints have to do with trucks failing to take the designated route into the site, rumbling through residential streets at odd hours, blocking driveways and sidewalks, or damaging landscaping and sprinklers as they attempt to turn around.
Residents have also complained of sagging or broken fences, trash blowing into their yards, mud-clogged storm drains and unpleasant encounters with trespassing construction workers using their yards as cafeterias and lavatories. Durr says when she went to a Denver Police community resource officer about workers leaving trash in her yard, "I was told, 'They're not hurting anything. Why don't you give them a trash can?' Well, I've found human feces on my property, so I don't think they're going to use a trash can."
The neighborhood may be getting dumped on in more ways than one. According to the city's assessment, the property value of Durr's house, which she moved into in 2010, has declined significantly in the last year — in part, she suspects, because of infrastructure problems caused by the construction. The site was flooded last November after a fire hydrant was broken, and some residents believe the area is still suffering a lack of water pressure and other issues as a result. Two of Durr's neighbors experienced sewer backups in May after heavy truck traffic on South Holly Place caused a break in the line; the street was closed briefly, and one of the construction companies paid for repairs to one sewer line.
More frustrating than the damage, Durr says, is the city's response to the situation. "I don't know if they lack the resources or the inclination," she says. "These developers are making a minimal investment in the neighborhood. We've pumped real cash money into this neighborhood, and we're not getting the response we need from the police or our councilwoman and the city's enforcement agencies."
While certain city inspectors, parking and noise enforcement officers have been helpful, Durr says, the Denver police have ignored her efforts to report property damage, telling her they required proof of "malicious intent." A city employee advised her to contact the police in order to report noise complaints after regular business hours, but the police refused to take such a report. ("If the police won't document it, noise enforcement won't ticket them," Durr says.) And Durr's relationship with city council member Peggy Lehmann has been strained, especially after Lehmann held a meeting this spring with developers to convey neighborhood grievances but didn't invite anyone from the neighborhood organization to attend.
"I understand why the neighbors are upset," Lehmann says. "It's their front and back yards. Have the contractors been as responsive as they should be? Probably not. We do talk to them. We do what we can. But we can't make them behave. It's just very difficult."
Lehmann says her staff has worked hard in response to neighbors' concerns. She's held various meetings over the past two years about the project and recently started sending out a monthly update, hoping to improve communication about different aspects of the development. She points out that the city has the authority to deny certificates of occupancy until the developers and their contractors have made necessary repairs for any damage they've done.
"The streets and sidewalks and landscape won't get fixed until next summer, when the project is done," she says. "Why fix them now, when they're just going to get messed up again? But we will see that those things are repaired."
"Peggy Lehmann keeps saying they're working on it, but nothing ever changes," Durr responds. Despite a mediated public meeting a few weeks ago and promises from the contractors to keep trucks on designated routes, Durr and others are still snapping photos of traffic and parking violations. The neighborhood association recently announced a "community boycott" of all Highpointe businesses but has not received any response from the developers.
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Ian McIntosh, project manager for Catamount Constructors, the builders of the Veranda apartments, didn't respond to requests for comment on his company's efforts to address the neighborhood concerns.
"We just want the developers and the contractors to treat our neighborhood with a modicum of respect," Durr says. "We're under siege."