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RedPeak releases Highland building renderings, woman tells her side of council member spat

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Neighbors around Highland Square will finally be able to see images of the proposed structures that are making them so mad. Today, RedPeak Properties released renderings for a pair of five-story apartment buildings it hopes to build in the area just north of 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard. A rendering for a building proposed for Moncrieff Place has not yet been made public.

Many neighbors, headed by the No High Rises in West Highland group, oppose the development because they believe five-story buildings would have a detrimental effect on the character of the neighborhood. Likewise, they feel the zoning that allows five-story buildings was flawed.

RedPeak has been meeting with a design advisory committee, comprised of representatives from RedPeak, the West Highland Neighborhood Association, No High Rises, Denver City Councilwoman Susan Shepherd's office and local business owners to help alleviate some of the neighbors' concerns.

"RedPeak Properties never intended to create controversy or a confrontation with the neighborhood when it began the redevelopment of this site," said RedPeak CEO Mike Zoellner in a press release. "Before entering into a contract to purchase the property, we evaluated the history of the project and the current entitlements. We had no indication that our vision would not be welcomed and supported by local residents and business owners. Our design intent has never assumed the construction of a high rise building by any industry standard."

Shepherd sent a letter to Zoellner over two weeks ago saying the development troubled her and asked that he consider buildings no higher than three stories. She says the renderings indicate RedPeak has worked hard to articulate the facade of the building so it does not appear so massive and solid. And although the buildings are still planned as five-stories, Shepherd believes RedPeak has addressed some of her concerns stated in the letter.

"They have reduced the height on the Meade parcel by another five feet," she says, referring to a plot just north of 32nd and west of Lowell. "They are definitely evaluating and seriously considering lowering the height on the Moncrieff parcel to four stories, which would cap it at 45 feet, which is the maximum height allowable under MS-3 (a main street designation with a maximum of three stories)."

Laura Goode, founder of the No High Rises group, is less impressed with the renderings.

"Despite the clear, widespread message our community has sent, RedPeak Properties regrettably has insisted on proceeding with a project that, as Councilwoman Susan Shepherd has stated, is inappropriate for its location and is based on a flawed zoning change," she said in a statement. "There is overwhelming evidence that the zoning RedPeak wants to exploit is an anomaly -- the parcels on which it wants to build are the only places in the entire City of Denver where an MS-5 designation (a main street designation with a maximum of five stories) has been given to interior local residential streets in a designated area of stability. We remain committed to halting this opportunistic attempt by RedPeak and its out-of-state financiers to ignore the wishes of thousands of local property owners, while destroying the character and charm of our neighborhood, and will continue working to support respectful, appropriate development in our neighborhood."

In a press release, RedPeak noted the buildings will be ten feet below what the zoning allows. It also claims to have addressed twenty of 23 concerns that came from the design advisory board meetings.

"If you look at the facade of the building it's truly lipstick on a pig," Goode says. "The facade doesn't fit at all into the Victorian, eclectic landscape of the surrounding neighborhood.

"We haven't moved from ground zero," she continues. "The whole thing is a farce and it is a PR attempt by RedPeak to make themselves look good and it's not going to work."

Shepherd remains hazy on what her next step will be. When asked whether she will be pursuing a moratorium, which would halt all work on the project, or a re-zoning, which could limit the height of the buildings to two or three stories, she said only that "nothing is off the table yet."

"I'm continuing to try to nail down exactly how this is going to affect our neighborhood in terms of the traffic and parking in particular, and how we can best plan to mitigate those impacts," says Shepherd.

Shepherd's relative inaction has angered some of her constituents, two of whom showed up at her house last Monday night to discuss the project. The discussion quickly devolved into a shouting match.

Shepherd recently shared her account of the argument in this space. She said the two women berated her, then threatened to institute a recall petition, at which point Shepherd says she lost control. At that point, she and her husband shouted at the women to leave until they did.

One of the women who visited Shepherd, Ellen M., who asks that her full last name not be used, tells a different story. Her tale matches Shepherd's until Ellen M. and her neighbor spoke of a recall.

"It was mentioned that since many neighbors are concerned about the lack of communication and results from her office, that she may want to be aware that a recall petition is in the works as people are deeply frustrated," she wrote in an e-mail. "At the moment those words came out, she leapt off the couch toward us. She was pointing her finger inches from my face and yelling, 'How dare you threaten me with a recall!' My neighbor got up. As my neighbor got up to leave and I followed, Susan grabbed my arms and repeated yelling again, 'How dare you threaten me with a recall,' still inches from my face. I broke free and went out the door."

According to Ellen M., Shepherd continued to yell at them as they made their way to the door.

"Susan still was in a rage and came after us reaching with her arms," she maintains. "Her husband quickly threw his weight on her, pinning her in the doorway and held her back with his hand over her mouth as she was spitting out profanities. He slammed the door and came out onto the porch. We were at the bottom of the steps and he was angrily telling us that they already knew about the recall petition and we didn't need to bring it up."

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Susan Shepherd and neighborhood association make moves in Highland development battle."

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