A major RiNo landlord’s plans to redevelop a city block cleared the first round of approvals last week, after hours of public comments in favor and against.
The Denver Planning Board, which provides an initial review of all rezoning requests, ultimately voted 6-1 on April 20 to recommend approval of the rezoning request from Edens, a retail-centric real estate firm that has spent about $80 million on properties in the neighborhood since 2018.
The request now goes to the Denver City Council for a final decision.
Edens’ rezoning request pertains to the block formed by Larimer and Lawrence streets between 26th and 27th streets, as well as for a few parcels in the 2500 block of Larimer Street.
The bulk of the block is owned by the nonprofit Volunteers of America, which is set to sell it to Edens through a complicated deal that includes Edens renovating VOA’s existing headquarters building on the block and helping shift its other operations there to Adams County.
The properties are currently home to one-to-three-story structures, and zoned for up to that height. Edens is asking for the site to be rezoned as PUD, which is essentially custom zoning that allows for a specific development.
The company, whose tenants include Burton and Patagonia, wants to build multiple five-to-seven-story buildings, with ground-floor retail space topped by residential units. Edens has expressed interest in attracting a grocery store to the site, which is something of a divider between primarily commercial and primary residential zones.
“We believe we’ve put together a design that appropriately transitions into the context of the surrounding neighborhood and also offers a robust set of community benefits,” local Edens executive Tom Kiler told the board.
Edens has committed to restrict 10 percent of the project’s residential units to those making up to 60 percent of the area median income. And it has pledged to rent some retail space for 50 percent of market rate.
The rezoning request prompted a flurry of input from the public. As of the April 20 meeting, the city had received 97 comments and 101 petition signatures in support, and 50 comments and 126 petition signatures in opposition, according to city documents. That doesn’t include letters of support that were also submitted by three neighborhood organizations.
About 40 people also spoke via Zoom during the Planning Board meeting, which spent about three-and-a-half hours on the measure. Those who spoke in opposition tended to be nearby residents concerned about either increased traffic or the project’s height, and said the rezoning didn’t align with long-term plans for the area’s growth.
“We really would like to see the zoning along Larimer or Lawrence stay at the I-MX-3 or three stories,” said Kevin LaFleur, who owns a nearby townhome. “We bought with the understanding that this was in place. We knew that there would be much more development to come around us. We also knew it would be regulated by this I-MX-3 zoning.”
Among the most passionate opponents was Matt Worthington, who said he lives in a home along the alley in the 2500 block, and that his front door would be 15 feet from the project.
“It’s going to put my home into the shadows,” he said. “It’s going to destroy all my light and my sight and my privacy. This is not an appropriate transition.”
The majority of those who spoke at the meeting, however, were in support of the measure. That contingent included some nearby residents, as well as local business owners.
“Edens has really made an attempt to have an intricate building here,” said Bill Mushkin, who lives nearby and owns a yoga studio. “It’s not a monolithic seven-story building.”
Others who voiced support were:
• Sean Campbell, CEO of Formativ, a Denver development firm that has done RiNo projects.
• Ryan Tobin, a former Denver Housing Authority director of real estate development who is developing an apartment building on the Brighton Boulevard side of RiNo.
• Malireddy Reddy, the founder of a dairy product research firm who sold a portion of the site to Edens in late 2020.
• Tai Beldock, who co-owns RiNo motorcycle shop Erico Motorsports, about two blocks from Edens’ real estate.
• Jevon Taylor, founder of apparel shop False Ego and CEO of coworking firm Green Spaces.
• Nancy James, head of school for Montessori Academy of Colorado, located about two blocks from the site.
While many supporters focused on the specifics of Edens’ planned project, Planning Board member Jordan Block noted the body was required to focus on just whether the rezoning was appropriate, taking into account city planning documents for the area.
“I think it’s a good project,” he said. “It sounds like it’s going to be done by a good group. We can’t consider that.”
Board member Fred Glick said that, while planning documents did suggest three stories was most appropriate for the area, he also felt there was language that could support the rezoning.
“We have to acknowledge that that is guidance, and I think the guidance in land use concepts makes clear that it expects there to be a variety of building heights,” Glick said.
Board member Ignacio Correa-Ortiz was the sole vote against the rezoning, saying it checked nine out of 10 boxes.
“I love it, but it doesn’t check one box for me,” he said.
The rezoning could go before a council committee as early as next week, and be voted on by the full council in June.