Despite fierce opposition from neighbors, Denver City Council voted ten to one on Monday, June 24, in favor of a rezoning application that will allow for the development of over 300 apartment units just south of Sloan's Lake Park. The project will transform land previously zoned for hospital buildings into 5.2 acres of affordable rental units, affordable for-sale apartments and market-rate condos.
"This plan is amazing," said Keith Pryor, a Denver real estate agent, at the meeting.
Most councilmembers praised the development as the right balance of affordability and profitability that can help meet Denver's housing needs. But nearby residents voiced loud opposition to the plan, arguing it was just too large for the plot of land. The new zoning will allow for a sixteen-story and a four-story building on land currently occupied by a medical office building, which will remain, and parking spaces.
"We are opposed to the size and scale of this project," said Tracy Hill, who lives close to the project. "The proposed rezoning is about profit. Let’s not be fooled."
Opponents of the rezoning, who repeatedly said they were not against affordable housing in their neighborhood, Tuxedo Park East, warned that increasing the density of the area would worsen traffic, jeopardizing the safety of residents. Some neighbors disagreed. "'Density' is not a dirty word. And density is appropriate at a transit-filled site such as this," said Daniel Gonzales, referring to bus and light-rail accessibility in the neighborhood.
Opponents argued at the meeting — and in past letters to Community Planning and Development — that separating the market-rate condos and the handful of affordable for-sale apartments from the building with affordable rental units would amount to income segregation.
"This particular affordable housing does not allow for home ownership, but segregates the less affluent from their more prosperous neighbors in the same development," Jane Parker-Ambrose, president of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association, wrote to Community Planning and Development.
But David Zucker, head of Zocalo Community Development, the company behind the project, said the project would be more mixed.
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"Ours is exactly the opposite: In the condo project, the affordable resident walks in the same door, has the same use of amenities and uses the same elevator," Zucker said, noting that he plans to continue talking to neighbors to get their input as the project is implemented.
Councilman Wayne New was the lone dissenter, Albus Brooks was not present, and Paul Lopez recused himself, since he submitted the rezoning application himself.
Spurred by the fight over the Zocalo development proposal, the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation Denver, an organization that brings together neighborhood organizations to address city issues, recently established a subcommittee to look at equity in development plans. In particular, the subcommittee will study "how development plans in Denver, that include affordable housing units, can ensure that all residents of the entire development are treated equitably with regard to access, distribution of units, open space and other amenities. Residents of new housing developments should not be physically separated by income level."
INC Denver expects to present its findings to city council sometime this summer.