Simply Pure owner Wanda James will lead a protest today, February 6, outside of her dispensary at the corner of West 32nd Avenue and Tejon Street, decrying a construction project that she says is killing businesses in the area. According to James, the five-story residential development has been illegally closing lanes and eliminating parking spots for the last two weeks.
The Lower Highland neighborhood has been dealing with this development for over two years, and James thinks the company behind the project has let construction workers become flippant with businesses and residents in the area. "For the last two weeks, they have literally closed the street in front of my dispensary for about eight hours," James says. "While I don't have an issue with the construction project, I don't understand why the developers don't park at Union Station instead of parking here."
The protest begins at 7 a.m. today; on Monday, February 5, James said she expected other business owners to join her and Denver mayoral candidate Kayvan Khalatbari in protesting the project and the city for not helping businesses in the area during construction. James has also called on the LoHi Merchants group to aid her cause.
Dubbed the Alexan LoHi at Dickinson Plaza, the unfinished building is owned by Trammell Crow Residential, a national residential development firm with nine current or completed projects in Denver. TCR bought the property, formerly Dickinson Plaza, in 2016 for $6.8 million and demolished the nine storefronts as part of its plans to build an apartment complex.
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James says construction workers hired by TCR have been parking in 24-hour spots on nearby Umatilla Street as early as 6:30 a.m., forcing the area's residents and shoppers to compete for two-hour parking spots in the neighborhood. However many of those spots are blocked because of construction machinery, James explains, and she's dealt with daylong road closures since late November 2017. All of the clutter has forced customers and vendors to park five or six blocks away from their destination.
TCR representatives recently promised to take thirty workers off the site and direct those remaining to stop parking in the area, James says, but she hasn't noticed any less clutter. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
In an email to Westword, Denver Department of Public Works communications specialist Heather Burke wrote that the Alexan LoHi is expected to finish construction "within the next month or so." Burke added that the holder of the street occupancy permits for the construction site had paid the city "thousands of dollars" for around forty street-occupancy permits on West 32nd Avenue, including a $590 fee for its most recent one.
"Permit conditions do require contractors to resolve all local access needs. So, residents or business owners who feel they might have an access issue when contractors are working should be able to get those issues resolved through the contractor (or by calling Denver Public Works, if we need to assist in helping residents make that connection with the contractor)," she wrote. "For the project at 32nd & Tejon, Denver Public Works has asked the contractor to provide advance notification of their work to adjacent property owners."
James received an email with the same text on Monday and was unsatisfied. "This company has violated their permit excessively," part of her response to DPW reads. "If this is [in fact] correct, I will expect compensation for the fraudulent closing of my street and costing my business excessive sales and customers."
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The last time the contractor was permitted to close the parking lane on West 32nd Avenue was Friday, January 26, according to Burke, adding that "if they kept this parking lane closed beyond the 26th, they were not in compliance with their permit." According to James, construction workers have closed her street every day since January 9 and were preparing to close the parking lane on West 32nd Avenue on February 5 until she threatened to call the city and media while recording them on her phone; she says she has video from Simply Pure security cameras to prove her claims.
Denver City Councilman Rafael Espinoza, who represents the Lower Highland neighborhood as part of District 1, called the city's rules that protect businesses during construction "weak" in a Facebook Live post with James on February 5.
"Last year there was a moratorium on this sort of street closure during the holiday season for Cherry Creek and downtown and nothing for northwest Denver," Espinoza said in the video. "These small businesses, that's when they make their money, their gravy, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. ... This problem is persistent, and it happens in a lot of places, and everyone knows it." Espinoza could not be reached for further comment.
James blames the traffic problems for the recent closing of Bremen's Wine & Tap, a block away at 2005 West 33rd Avenue. Even after the construction crews are gone, she adds, she will call on the city to add more protection. "I'm not protesting big development, but big development needs to pay their way if it's busting up our revenue," she says. "Why did they pay all this money for that plot of land? Because of LoHi – and its small businesses."