The Neighborhood Planning Initiative devised by Denver’s Department of Community Development and Planning has launched plans in the pipeline that have stirred up a lot of conversation.
Deciding not to try to go anywhere this morning, it was a good time to focus on the plans that are in the works for changes in Denver. The Denver City Council approved the Far Northeast Area Plan in June, and the Loretto Heights Area Plan was OK’d in September. Thousands of residents will be affected by the East Central Area Plan and the East Area Plan, which are moving along; community input for the West Area Plan began a few days ago.
Reading numerous stories about these three ongoing plans (and attending community events for my own neighborhood area plan) gave me a sense of where things are going wrong.
For one thing, clumping statistical neighborhoods into one plan doesn’t necessarily work, but city planners don’t want to create plans neighborhood by neighborhood because it would take too long.
I live in North Capital Hill, under the umbrella of the East Central Area Plan. North Cap Hill and Capitol Hill have similarities; they include single-family homes, but are more notable for multi-family buildings, commercial strips, and old mansions that now house law offices and other businesses. But Congress Park is much more focused on single-family homes; yes, there are commercial areas and occasional multi-family buildings, but it’s a different type of neighborhood.
The biggest issues have surfaced in the neighborhoods lumped together in the East Area Plan. Montclair is so different from the East Colfax neighborhood that it makes no sense to put them in the same plan. It’s like linking Montana and New Jersey. The East Colfax neighborhood section of the proposed plan is making residents there nervous, and for good reason. In August, Denver City Council considered part of that corridor to be blighted, with a focus on redevelopment.
In real-world language, redevelopment means that many residents are fearful they will be pushed out. You can call it displacement or gentrification, but the bottom line is that some of Denver’s other neighborhoods have watched residents be squeezed out of the city, with neighborhoods losing their character.
Then, these plans really do point out areas for developers to focus on. I understand that building 5-story apartment buildings might satisfy those who want to see more density as the city keeps growing, but will residents who are hanging onto their homes or apartments still be able to live in the city? The irony? When homes in these neighborhoods get scraped to build three towering townhomes on the same lot, the values of neighbors’ homes shoot up.
Then there is the issue of “age-ism,” where younger residents and older residents may not focus on the same concerns. I don’t find that unusual, but it can be offensive (oh, and snarky). What people need to know is that along with younger residents who can’t support escalating rents, older residents also might be worried about losing the roof over their heads.
And there is a new concept called “character homes.” Here’s how it’s defined in the East Central Area Plan: “Potential historic preservation incentive that would allow homes to add a residential unit as long as they do not demolish existing buildings will have eligibility based on multiple specific criteria, rather than just location.” That makes me nervous.
Finally, during all of this reading, meeting, and complaining, one of the bedrocks of Denver’s neighborhoods are now being questioned. There are more than 200 Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNO’s) in Denver, which have a voice to represent a neighborhood. My neighborhood is represented in four RNO’s, including a brand new one. What is causing concerns is that these organizations can focus on owners, but not on all residents’ needs or ideas. This seems to create a division in various ways, since we all need a voice.
The first links below focus on who speaks for those in the East Colfax neighborhood. Then, there is a series of links with information for the overall Neighborhood Planning Initiative, the East Central Area Plan, the East Area Plan, and the West Area Plan.
Representing East Colfax
A new activist group to rep minorities rises out of government-led plans for east Denver
East Colfax Neighborhood Association proposes financial incentives for RNOs that diversify
Neighborhood Planning Initiative
Click to access NPI_Strategic_Plan.pdf
East Central Area Plan
East Area Plan
Denver community group wants better protections against displacement
West Area Plan