The Denver City Council voted 9-3 on Monday to rezone a pair of lots in Cherry Creek that the owner called “a very underutilized portion of a very sought-after neighborhood,” despite pushback from some neighbors.
The decision to rezone the 3400 E. Bayaud Ave. and 121 S. Madison St. lots for up to five stories, instead of the previous three, paves the way for a planned residential project.
The lots are currently home to a four-story office building and a two-story office building, constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. The taller building was likely constructed before the previous zoning was in place, according to a city staffer.
Travis McAfoos, founder and co-owner of Wash Park coworking space Alchemy Creative Workspace, paid $4.3 million for the Bayaud property in 2014, and $3.9 million for the Madison property last year, records show.
“There’s been a vision for a town center at this location even since I brought this property,” McAfoos told council members Monday.
McAfoos and Denver-based Nava Real Estate Development want to build a residential project that would have about 150 residential units and 150 parking spaces, according to a website they established.
Nava President Brian Levitt said Monday that his firm and McAfoos have agreed to reserve 10 percent of the units for those making up to 60 percent of the area median income. The project is subject to the city’s recently passed “Expanding Housing Affordability” plan, which requires residential developers to incorporate income-restricted housing or pay a massive fee.
“It’s a rare opportunity to develop this site in Cherry Creek on open space next to a tennis center,” Levitt said.
Bill Tanner, representing the Cherry Creek East Association, said most residents surveyed opposed the rezoning. Tanner said the proposal seemed inconsistent with the Cherry Creek Area Plan, a document intended to guide local growth, and that older residents nearby had concerns about parking and “their ability to walk safely around the area.”
Tanner suggested allowing five stories along Bayaud but limiting height along Madison Street to three stories.
“Because all of the buildings along that side of Madison are three stories,” Tanner said.
One speaker in opposition to the rezoning referred to five stories as a “high rise,” while another in support noted there’s a 15-story building across Bayaud Street from the site.
A different speaker said he opposed the rezoning because he was concerned that the income-restricted units would all be lumped together in the eventual project, away from the pricier units. “It’s dispersed throughout the project,” McAfoos said later.
And yet another speaker, in support, said “residents of multifamily buildings are treated as second-class citizens by our society.”
Hunter Banbury, a real estate attorney and developer, told council members he owns the adjacent 111 S. Madison St. property and “it is to my financial benefit to rezone this corner.” But he spoke in opposition, saying other recent rezonings and planned projects like Cherry Creek West are already slated to bring hundreds of new residential units to the area.
“The vast influx will change the nature of Cherry Creek forever,” Banbury said.
Councilman Chris Hinds, who represents Cherry Creek, voted along with eight others to rezone the lots. Those voting in opposition were Amanda Sawyer, Kevin Flynn and Amanda Sandoval. Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was absent from the meeting.
Sawyer noted that, as part of the “Expanding Housing Affordability” regulations, McAfoos and Nava could technically build seven stories with the five-story zoning if they increase the income-restricted component beyond 10 percent. She asked whether they planned to do that.
“I need to understand it more as a developer and as an owner of this property to see if it’s applicable on this site,” McAfoos responded.
Sawyer ultimately said she didn’t find the rezoning to be consistent with the area plan.
“It’s not,” she said. “It’s clearly not.”