Construction Watch

Do Denver Developers Have to Talk to Neighbors About Their Projects? No

Is there any topic that gets Denver residents talking more than growth — and what comes with it? High rents, traffic congestion and, in my neighborhood, renewed parking wars, with an entire block (see above) now closed, and two side roads often off limits, too — or so clogged with construction trucks that we often feel like prisoners in our own homes.

This morning, I pointed out to the driver of a construction truck parked in front of my house that the 2100 block of West 28th Avenue is two-hour, residential parking only, as are so many neighborhoods around town that have become commercial, and now construction, hot beds. "And it's going to get worse," he pointed out helpfully, not making a move to take his truck elsewhere. "You know what we're building..."

Yes, I do: a 270-unit (at last count) "luxury" apartment development that promises (for now) to have at least one parking spot per bedroom for its tenants, which is certainly better than some developers have delivered.

Don't get me wrong: I know that growth is inevitable, and as long as that complex is a good neighbor, it's welcome. I welcomed its forerunner, too: The Contemporary Learning Academy, an alternative high school that Denver Public Schools ran on the site for a decade. (Before that, the building was home to USA Today and the Farm Bureau.) But then DPS decided to sell the building, which occupied a prime spot in LoHi with an incredible view that ranges from downtown to Mile High Stadium with Pikes Peak off in the distance, and collected more than $12 million — in much needed cash — in the process.

"It's about the quickest I've ever closed on a piece of land," J. Scott Rodgers, the Dallas-based developer for Richman Ascension Development, told me after the deal was completed last January.  "We stepped up more than I've seen my company step up in a while.... We have projects all over, and this is our first foray into Denver.  I couldn't be more pleased about developing something in that neighborhood. I think it's one of the coolest places."

The CLA moved out in May — DPS reopened the school at  200 East Ninth Avenue in part of a properties consolidation — and construction began this fall. And here's my problem with it: Although the project has become what looks like a permanent resident, the people in charge have never talked to neighbors — although they're using one of the bungalows on my block as an office. They've never notified us that a block of 28th would be closed for what looks like at least a year, that they'd be doing heavy excavation to create a big enough basement for those parking spots (shaking the foundations of the historic homes of Stoneman's Row in the process), that additional projects might close other side streets.  

Since no zoning changes were required for this project, there were no community hearings — but shouldn't the city require at least some outreach when a project is this massive? Aren't there some rules about notifying neighbors of what's to come? Not according to Andrea Burns, communications director for Denver's planning department.

"There is no code requirement for developers/managers to do the outreach you’ve described," she says. "They are required to post permits on-site." And permits aplenty there are at this particular project  — but actual information? No.

And at this point in the city's exploding growth, shouldn't Denver start requiring some communication? Everyone else is talking about growth — why not the developers themselves? 

In response to complaints from neighborhoods crankier than mine, Denver Development Services has posted the following on the city's website
Construction Procedures for Neighbors to Know
Contact 311 to report construction-related code violations.

Most construction projects require building permits. (Visit our website for work exempt from permits.)

Building permits must be displayed where they can be seen from the street. [DBCA 130.1, 140.1]

Construction noise is allowed between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. [DRMC 36-7]

If a project involves demolition or excavation, the permit applicant must notify the owners of adjacent properties before obtaining demolition/excavation permits. [DBCA 3307.1.1]

Adjacent properties must be protected during construction. This includes foundations, fences and landscaping. [DBCA: 3307.1]

Provisions shall be made to control water runoff and erosion during construction activities. [DBCA 3307.1]

Construction equipment and materials shall be stored and placed so as not to endanger the public, the workers or adjoining property for the duration of the project. [IBC 3301.2]

Dirt and construction debris may not be placed in streets, alleys or sidewalks. [DBCA 3302.2]

Construction debris may not be placed in city dumpsters. [DRMC 48-44]

Containers shall not be placed in streets without proper permits from Denver Public Works Right-of-Way Services. [DBCA 3308.3]

Streets and alleys shall not be blocked without proper permits from Denver Public Works Right-of-Way Services. [DBCA 3308.3]

A port-o-let or other sanitary facility is required for each construction site. [IBC 3305.1]

Six-foot fences must be maintained around open excavation sites (including single-family projects where full basements are being dug) or hazardous job sites to prevent unauthorized access. [IBC 3306.1, 3306.9, DBCA 3303.4] 
Helpful info, but still — wouldn't it be neighborly for construction managers to notify residents within a one-block radius of the extent and duration of their project? And wouldn't it be good government for the city to require something that simple and straightforward?

There are a million — okay, certainly hundreds — of stories in this naked city about construction projects snarling traffic, upsetting neighbors or otherwise adding to growing concerns about the current state of Denver. What's yours?

And  BTW, Richman, if you save me a parking place, all is forgiven.