Owner of closed Capitol Hill Whole Foods discusses possible rezoning, redevelopment

The 20,500-square-foot building at 900 E. 11th Ave. has been vacant since Whole Foods exited last year. (Thomas Gounley)

The owner of the Capitol Hill property where Whole Foods once operated met with neighbors Tuesday evening to discuss possibly rezoning the site for redevelopment, and said the grocery store’s lease of the property extends for the next 13 years.

It was the first time Doug Antonoff, managing member of property owner Midtown 900 Associates, publicly revealed the duration of the lease, a key factor as the future of 900 E. 11th Ave. is discussed.

“We can’t redevelop the building without (Whole Food’s) consent,” Antonoff told those attending the meeting organized by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods. “They’re 100 percent in control of the property.”

Antonoff said he doesn’t want to approach Whole Foods about possible redevelopment of the site unless he can show significant public support for it, and said Tuesday’s meeting was the first attempt to gauge that.

The 900 E. 11th Ave. property is a 1.28-acre lot consisting of a 20,500-square-foot building, the bulk of which is one story, surrounded by a parking lot. Whole Foods closed its store in the building in November 2017, and hasn’t indicated future plans for the site.

The property is zoned G-MS-3, which allows for structures up to three stories. Antonoff, CEO of Denver’s Antonoff & Co., is considering applying to the city for G-MS-5 zoning, which would allow for structures up to five stories.

Multi-use is planned

If the rezoning were approved, Antonoff said he would build a five-story development with retail space on the ground floor, and residential units above that.

Antonoff said he is discussing the rezoning because the current setup is “not the highest and best use of the site,” and because community members have told him they enjoyed Whole Foods, and would like to see it or another grocery store return.

That, however, presents a complication, Antonoff said.

Doug Antonoff

“I’m sure a lot of you know that grocery stores are not the highest rent payers,” he told those gathered Tuesday.

Antonoff said that, if he were to develop a three-story project at the site — as allowed by current zoning — he would need to incorporate more residential units, at the expense of retail space.

“There’s no way that we could get a grocer in a three-story building and make it economically viable,” Antonoff said.

The additional two stories allowed by G-MS-5 would make a large grocery tenant financially feasible, Antonoff said.

“You have my commitment to go out and really try to get a grocery store,” he told community members.

“What this five-story rezoning could do is enable the type of development that would make the neighborhood thrive and be stronger,” said Steven Ferris of the Real Estate Garage, who is advising Antonoff on the project.

It’s unclear if Whole Foods would be interested in being part of a redevelopment. Antonoff said if he moves forward with the rezoning plan, he would approach the company — now owned by Amazon — at some point, and see if it was open to either negotiating a new lease in the new development or terminating its lease to allow redevelopment to move forward.

Whole Foods doesn’t have to go along with the redevelopment proposal, and could continue paying rent for the site for the next 13 years, as it has been doing since the store closed.

Antonoff said he hopes discussion of the property’s future could prompt Whole Foods “to do something sooner rather than later.”

More than 100 community members attended the Tuesday meeting, a turnout that left some without a place to sit. At the end, an informal audience poll by Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods board members found that 43 individuals were against the rezoning, while 34 supported it. (Some attendees did not vote or left early).

The bulk of the meeting was a Q&A session between Antonoff and attendees. Several topics that came up were:

    • Parking: Some attendees expressed concern that the area does not have enough street parking to support the new residents. A city staff member present said the base parking requirement for the development would be one spot per resident, but that could be reduced based on specifics of the development. Some attendees felt that was not enough, or wanted the development to include additional parking spots that would be rented to individuals who live elsewhere for a monthly fee.
    • Rezoning without development: Some attendees said that Antonoff could get the site rezoned, which would make the property more valuable, then opt not to redevelop the site. Antonoff said he wants to build the development and does “not have any intention of selling the property under any circumstances.” Antonoff’s family has owned the site for decades. His father Gary Antonoff, who was slated to speak at the Tuesday meeting, died last month.
    • Current status of site: Some attendees said they think the current site is an eyesore, and that it’s unfortunate that no one can park in the site’s lot, because those who do are regularly towed. Antonoff said Whole Foods controls the site and has put the towing procedures in place. “I’m not happy with the way the building looks today,” he said. “I know many of you aren’t.”
    • Fit with neighborhood: Some attendees said they think five stories is too tall for the site. Ferris noted that one building on an adjacent lot is 4 1/2 stories.

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