Shadows and Demons in Jefferson Park

Jefferson Park United Neighbors (JPUN) have been butting heads with developers over a proposed apartment complex on the site of the shuttered Baby Doe’s and Chili Pepper restaurants in northwest Denver for a long, heady 20 months, which you can read about here and here. When it came time last Monday night for City Council to make the final vote on whether to approve the zoning change that would allow the potential development, named Pinnacle Station, to move forward, most observers thought the hearing would be an open-and-shut deal. Either Council would green light the project or they wouldn’t. After all the time the neighbors spent battling the project, what impact could one last hearing have on their case?

Score one for democracy: The public comments at the City Council meeting led to several shake-ups in the battle over Pinnacle Station — though not all of them to JPUN’s advantage.

The neighbors were able to stall City Council’s vote on the rezoning for a week, thanks to University of Colorado at Denver architecture student Danielle DePasquale, who created a shadow study demonstrating Pinnacle Station would put some neighboring homes in total shadow for eight months of the year. Council members requested Pinnacle Station’s developer, A.G. Spanos, prepare their own shadow study, and which they will consider tonight at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, room 451 of the City and County Building, 1437 Bannock Street, before taking a final vote.

“We requested a shadow study form the developer 10-plus times. We never got it, so the neighborhood took it upon themselves,” says resident Brad Evans, who chairs JPUN's land-use committee. “We made our own discoveries, and hopefully that will change the course of this project.”

Unfortunately for JPUN, not everything the anti-Pinnacle Station contingent said at the hearing last week came off so flattering. When A.G. Spanos representatives presented a 400-signature neighbor petition in support of the project, JPUN co-president Ed Kieta questioned the document, arguing, “The signatures ... were targeted for a certain racial group… None of the Caucasian people in our neighborhood were approached.”

"Did you want me to discount the importance of these 420 individuals?" shot back Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz. "They have a stake in the community also."

Ouch. Kieta's quote had the potential to dismantle all the work JPUN has put in to avoid coming off as gentrifying NIMBYS (“Not in my backyards”)— especially since his comments were published in the Denver Post.

“Unfortunately it got misconstrued and the papers kind of went with that,” says Kieta in hindsight. “I wanted to point out the fact that the A.G. Spanos corporation was targeting and misinforming the Spanish community in Jefferson Park to gather signatures of support. If the person they talked to was informed, they would just walk away. I felt personally that they were disrespecting the Hispanic community.”

Others in the community also seem to question the petition. One commenter who took the title “Chicano in Jefferson Park” wrote on the Post’s website:

I was approached by a Spanish-only speaking individual asking me to sign the developer’s petition, when I asked what it was for, she it was for “beautiful new apartments.” I have seen other lobbying groups in this neighborhood try to exploit people of my Mexican heritage to bring numbers to their cause with promises and veiled truths. Aware of this, I asked her in English, where is the project and who is developing it, her response... ‘No se.’ Her petition was written in English, and she herself could not read it. Jefferson Park is 80 percent Latino. 57 percent of all residents are Spanish speakers, and 32 percent don’t speak English well. That's nearly 900 people who can sign something written in English, and have no idea what they signed... SHAME ON THIS DEVELOPER!

But as politicians know too well, one sound bite is all it takes to sink a career—or, in this case, possibly raise an apartment building. – Joel Warner