Contested Development

The yard signs are out in force in the Jefferson Park neighborhood in northwest Denver, telling passersby that residents here aren’t anti-development, just anti-bad development. Key talking points have been dispersed to neighborhood association members, noting that their neighborhood, an up-and-coming enclave of new condos and town homes alongside empty parking lots and deteriorating mid-century bungalows, needs building projects that respect the area’s diverse urban environment and killer downtown views, not massive monolithic apartment complexes that will block the skyline and overshadow single-family homes.

It’s all in response to Pinnacle Station, a five-building, 350-rental unit apartment complex proposed for the site of the shuttered Baby Doe's and Chili Pepper restaurants at the eastern edge of Jefferson Park, on a bluff overlooking Interstate 25. Jefferson Park United Neighbors has waged an 18-month battle against the project – and that battle comes to head tonight at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, room 451 of the City and County Building, 1437 Bannock Street. That’s when City Council will vote on whether to revise the area’s zoning to allow A.G. Spanos, Pinnacle Station’s billion-dollar developer, to move forward with the complex.

Several city bodies have recommended A. G. Spanos’ rezoning application be approved, including the Planning and Development Department, the Planning Board and, most recently, City Council’s Blueprint Denver Committee. But Jefferson Park neighbors argue the project is in direct opposition to their city-approved neighborhood plan, which is supposed to help direct development in this increasingly hot neighborhood. Residents fear that if this project gets approved, it will demonstrate that neighborhood-planned community development is a farce compared to the deep pockets and political sway of major developers.

“Even the city acknowledges that [Pinnacle Station] is something completely different than what we have seen in this neighborhood,” says Erin Ansell, JPUN president. “So who decides what is best for the neighborhood? We have neighborhood that has three times overwhelmingly voted against this development and we have an out-of-town developer who says this is good for the neighborhood. Who is right?”

“We have been working with the neighbors for more than 18 months to modify this project and the outcome is a great neighborhood-oriented development. We look forward to a favorable outcome at tonight's public hearing,” says Alexandros Economou of A.G. Spanos. But while the developer has made concessions to JPUN ranging from additional view corridors between the buildings to more attractive facades, “We still believe this is not a good project,” says Ansell. That’s why last night JPUN voted to reject the last-ditch development agreement proposal A.G. Spanos presented to the neighborhood that would have guaranteed a traffic study and addressed other neighborhood concerns not covered in the project’s rezoning application. Instead, JPUN will push council tonight to vote against Pinnacle Station.

“This long and drawn-out battle is finally coming to an end, for better or worse,” says Ansell. She, for one, is glad it is, whatever the outcome: “We are exhausted, we are burned out, and we have to put some efforts into other things in the neighborhood.” That includes new zoning districts that may help stem such outsized neighborhood developments in the future, plus the neighborhood’s annual summer fair and community-building happy hours.

Of course, depending on what happens tonight, all of that — figuratively and literally — may be overshadowed by Pinnacle Station. – Joel Warner

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner