As the city discusses a zoning update for the Golden Triangle, a group from outside the neighborhood has its own view — about a view.
The board of Neighbors for Greater Capitol Hill, a registered neighborhood organization that represents the neighborhoods roughly between Broadway and Josephine Street south of 23rd Avenue to 6th Avenue, is concerned that taller buildings allowed in the plan’s latest draft could impact views from Cheesman Park.
“The view of the mountains is very important to us Denverites,” said Brad Cameron, a resident of Cheesman Park and a member of the board. “This is an issue that’s gone back quite literally decades. The mountain view ordinance we’re talking about, it’s been on the books for decades and it’s an important attribute of living in Denver. There’s always been a concern that we don’t want to lose those iconic views from important public locations.”
The proposed update aims to diversify what is built in the neighborhood — in recent years, projects have been largely residential — while improving the experience for pedestrians and incentivizing the development of affordable housing.
Specifically, the plan would allow for higher buildings, up to 325 feet, if the developer meets certain standards, including incorporating income-restricted units.
The plan was drawn up with the help of a city-convened advisory committee, which includes residents of the Golden Triangle, developers with interest in the neighborhood and representatives of the city, including City Council members.
Absent from that committee were any of the residents to the east in Cheesman Park.
“We’ve been a little frustrated,” Cameron said.
City has more than a dozen protected view planes
There are 14 spots in the city specified in municipal code where a person is supposed to be able to stand and see the mountains, or, in a few cases, the downtown skyline. Each of the spots has a corresponding view plane, an area where height can be restricted to protect that perspective.
One of those spots is about 1,500 feet due east of the Cheesman Park Pavilion, in the middle of the Denver Botanic Gardens. Like the other view planes, it operates on a height-limiting formula based on relative height and distance from the view point. The farther away a structure is, the higher it can be, meaning the view plane itself actually slopes diagonally upward away from the viewer.
The plane in question extends west and slightly north on a line to the southeast corner of Civic Center Park at Broadway, then south down Broadway to Speer Boulevard, along Speer southeast to Alamo Placita Park, and circling back northeast to the viewpoint in the gardens.
The view plane doesn’t actually cover much of the Golden Triangle — just the blocks between Broadway and Lincoln Street. And conversely, plenty of the mountains visible the Cheesman pavilion aren’t formally protected by the plane.
Regardless of the exact boundaries of the protected area, Cameron and those in his group are concerned that 325-foot towers in the Golden Triangle would hinder views from the pavilion. They want the maximum height there reduced to 250 feet.
Community Planning and Development, the city department spearheading the zoning update, recently posted an explainer on the subject, saying its modeling shows that the proposed towers “would not affect mountain views from Cheesman Park.”
Cameron, who is also one of the residents looking to preserve Denver7’s building at 123 Speer Blvd., is not convinced.
“We disagree,” he said. “You’re taking much of the lower flanks and obliterating some of the foothills.”
Hinds: City’s analysis has addressed the issue
City Councilman Chris Hinds represents residents of both Golden Triangle and Cheesman Park.
He’s also a member of the advisory committee, and said he’s tried to introduce the Cheesman Park perspective. It’s a tricky issue, he said.
“Developers want more height,” Hinds said. “Neighbors in Golden Triangle are kind of indifferent to height as long as there’s setbacks (distance from the street) and stepbacks (higher floors further from the street than lower floors). But neighbors in Cheesman are concerned, and maybe rightfully so. They don’t want their ability to see those beautiful Rocky Mountains destroyed.”
Hinds said that there’s history with Cheesman. Buildings already exist that obscure views of the mountains, most notably the recently built Country Club Gardens Towers to the southwest of the park at 1001 E. Bayaud Ave.
Those towers are well outside the protected view plane. But they pierce the views of the mountains to the south, Hinds said, and neighbors are worried about having that happen again.
“The idea of ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,’” Hinds said. “But I think CPD has done quite a bit of analysis on these ‘point towers,’ and they are certain that, because of the elevation difference between Cheesman and Golden Triangle, the diagrams they’ve made showed that the point towers at the current height won’t pierce mountain views.”
Hinds added he’ll continue to advocate for the concerns of the Cheesman Park folks, but said he’s reasonably confident that the advocacy to this point has yielded a reasonable response from CPD.
Hinds also pointed out that there is more at play than just views. The growing city needs more housing, so “developers have to be a consideration,” he said.
“Do we cave or appease them unrealistically? No,” he said. “But they’re a consideration. And neighbors are a consideration, too. Should they get everything they want? No. A lot of neighbors prefer we turn Denver into a museum. ‘I’m here, I got mine, and who cares about who’s next?’ But the secret’s out, people want to move to this beautiful city, and we can, as city leaders, either shape the change or have it shaped for us.”
Hinds said it’s possible to go nitty-gritty on the zoning, as Cameron and others have suggested, requiring lower max heights south of 9th Avenue. But it’s also a bit of overkill, he said.
That’s because the plan as it’s currently proposed may be somewhat temporary anyway. House Bill 1117, which would allow municipalities to require affordable housing in new developments, is currently being discussed in the state legislature. If passed, the city wouldn’t necessarily need to offer the height incentive.
Sandoval: Max height needs a hard cap
Another council member, District 1’s Amanda Sandoval, doesn’t have skin in the game the way Hinds does.
But at the committee meeting where the plan was presented, Sandoval raised an issue about the hardness of the cap on height.
“They depicted flat buildings,” she told BusinessDen. “As we all know, that’s not the case with development. Nothing’s flat, especially with higher heights where you have to have an elevator for ADA access. When you depict plans such as the Golden Triangle plan and there’s pictures within it, the community, I’ve found, goes back to those pictures and expects that to take place.”
Sandoval said elevator shafts, HVAC and communications equipment will increase the effective height. She feels a hard stop on height needs to be codified — that nothing can be higher than 325 feet.
“The devil is really in the details,” she said. “If they’re not considering that, I hope they do. It will come back eventually as development is built out. You won’t be able to see the mountain because an elevator shaft is in the way.”
Sandoval gave as an example the Coors Field view plane, which has a hard cap on building heights to allow Rockies spectators to see the mountains from their seats.
That’s what she’d like to see in the Golden Triangle.
“The mountains and Denver, they’re not separate,” Sandoval said. “People think about them as the same. They think Denver, they know you can see the mountains. I feel it’s important to be able to have sensitivity around that as we develop the urban core.”