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Susan Shepherd and neighborhood association make moves in Highland development battle

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The controversy surrounding RedPeak Properties' proposed development near 32nd Avenue and Lowell Boulevard has been light on recent action and heavy on letters, motions and press releases. Given that, it's been an busy week for the development, with Denver City Council District 1 rep Susan Shepherd, taking her first official action and the West Highland Neighborhood Association (WHNA) passing a motion supporting down-zoning of three parcels where RedPeak plans to build five-story apartment buildings.

Many neighbors and businesses surrounding the proposed development have voiced concern that a trio of five-story buildings will detract from the historic character of the neighborhood, as well as cause traffic and parking headaches. Opponents also believe that the parcels in question were improperly zoned as part of a city-wide zoning overhaul the Denver City Council approved in 2010.

RedPeak has the legal right to start building whenever it wants, but opposing groups, spearheaded by No High Rises in West Highland, have vowed to do anything in their power to stop or alter the development so that it doesn't negatively affect the neighborhood.

But most of the stakeholders have been waiting for Shepherd to take the lead and advance the most viable option. Shepherd believes that begins with a letter she sent to RedPeak president Mike Zoeller on Tuesday.

In the letter, Shepherd praises Zoellner for working with the other stakeholders in the design process, but says studying the parcels and the zoning history has left her troubled. She writes that she is primarily concerned with the intensity of buildings on the parcels that border Meade Street and Moncrieff Place, which neighbor historic one- and two-story homes on narrow streets.

While much of the discussion surrounding this development has centered around possibly re-zoning the parcels so that the buildings on them could not be built higher than two or three stories, Shepherd would rather not pursue that route.

"I think we can achieve the best result on a volunteer basis," she says. "I would like to give them (RedPeak) a chance to work with me before I take a more drastic step."

Zoellner will be meeting with the other members of the design advisory committee, which is comprised of representatives for RedPeak, the No High Rises group, Shepherd's office, the WHNA and local business owners, on January 18. At that meeting Shepherd will find out if Zoellner listened to her wishes.

"I am respectfully requesting that you strongly consider additional modifications in height/density to your proposal in advance of the January 18th meeting of the design advisory committee, which I believe might mean 3 stories," Shepherd wrote to Zoellner.

Neither Zoellner nor another representative from RedPeak has commented on Shepherd's letter. On January 2, the company sent out a press release stating it will move forward with several recommendations from the design advisory committee, but reiterated it will be a "mid-rise, five-story" project.

"I'd have to say I really want to see meaningful changes by the 18th and if I don't see meaningful changes, I have decided on my next step," says Shepherd, while declining to elaborate on that step might be.

RedPeak representatives have indicated that the developer will release a draft of the building plans on January 19. According to its press release, the buildings will all be lower than the 65-foot peak of the church that sits on Lowell, which will be incorporated into the buildings. If these plans don't meet Shepherd's expectations she has not ruled out seeking legislative action such as a re-zoning or a moratorium, which would essentially put a halt on the project.

"What I want to focus on is doing the things that have the best chance of providing results to the community and works for the developer," she says. "I think we have a chance to do that without seeking a legislative alternative, but I will seek one if I feel we're not making any progress."

Just hours after Shepherd sent her letter, the WHNA unanimously passed a motion that supports re-zoning of the Moncrieff parcel to a lower density, residential zone, the Meade parcel to an urban, mixed-use, two-story zone, and the Lowell parcel to an urban, row-house, two-story zone. The motion also proposed that all main street, three-story zones in the West Highland neighborhood be reduced to two stories.

"These aren't demands or anything of City Council," says Kevin Neimond, president of the WHNA. "This is simply saying that if the current city council and Councilwoman Shepherd do chose to review it, here is what we would like them to take into consideration and here's what we would like the ultimate outcome to be."

The WHNA also passed another motion that supports an overlay district for the area between Irving Street and Perry Street and 30th and 33rd Avenues. Whereas the first motion is more of a suggestion for city council, Neimond says the overlay motion is worded with a little more force.

"This motion indicates that the board members of the neighborhood association strongly oppose any development near Highland Square that exceeds two-and-a-half stories," he says. "It also indicates that the board members of the neighborhood association would support the creation of a new overlay zone district limiting building height for new construction at 35 feet."

Creating an overlay district that limits building height would eliminate future conflicts like the one surrounding RedPeak's development. Right now, the buildings around Highland Square are all two stories or lower, but developers could come in and build three-story structures given current zoning.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Susan Shepherd hints at her next step in battle over proposed development in West Highland."

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