DENVER (CBS4) – After three years of discussion and public debate, Denver City Council adopted the East Area Plan late Monday night. According to the city, the plan addresses key neighborhood needs, helping businesses thrive and expanding affordable housing.

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However, some residents say there’s a disconnect between what city planners think neighborhoods need and what neighbors actually need.

“The pandemic has really increased stress on small businesses and residents. We thought it was really important to get to the stages of adopting a plan, so we can then begin with implementation,” said Liz Weigle, Denver Senior City Planner.

The East Denver Plan encompasses the Hale, Montclair, South Park Hill and East Colfax neighborhoods. It’s a 20-year plan designed to preserve neighborhood architecture, trees and open space. Another goal is to add more parks and improve the infrastructure to make it safe from flooding.

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“These type of changes would happen over time. The plan helps guide things and inform city decision-making like future budgets and zoning decisions that may come down the road,” said Weigle, who mentioned street improvement and slowing traffic along 13th and 14th Avenues as some of the first changes residents will see.

Future zoning recommendations in the plan could also bring taller buildings and more population density to the area.

“The 15 and 15L are our best transit lines in the city, so there’s an opportunity for more people to live along Colfax than we see today,” said Weigle. “We’ve talked about only allowing greater heights when community benefits are implemented. That can be affordable housing, affordable business space, park space, those are some the ideas.”

Weigle says the impact of COVID-19 on these communities drove the city council to finally vote on the plan it spent years discussing. The pandemic is also why the East Colfax Neighborhood Association wanted the city to delay voting on its decision.

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“This plan was 99% created pre-Covid. It’s not in any way an emergency relief package. But as soon as Covid hit, it started to get spun that way,” said Tim Roberts, President of the East Colfax Neighborhood Association. “There is a very high rate of poverty in the neighborhood. There was a serious lack of representation of the East Colfax neighborhood on the committee and in the plan itself. There’s this disconnect between the city’s stated mission of helping people and making it so people are essential to the plan.”

The city says it sought community input long before the vote was made, and had more before the pandemic hit. Roberts argued the latest drafts came during a time when it was unsafe for neighbors to have meetings and bring a timely, opposing argument before the city.

“Our ability to meet in-person was completely shut down and organization in the neighborhood was hobbled. However, the machinery of city planning did not miss a beat going forward,” said Roberts. “We voted, as a neighborhood, for anti-displacement to be the #1 priority in our plan. There’s no agreement or communication around how that’s going to work.”

The city says anti-displacement is at the top of its priority list, too. According to plan recommendations, the city will ensure the East Area is an inclusive place in the future by increasing the amount of affordable housing, using all available methods.

“We don’t own private property and we can’t guarantee everything that will happen, but we do have a number of resources. Temporary rentals, utility assistance, homeowner rehabilitation, food assistance. The anti-displacement plan is even more important now to be able to connect people with those resources,” said Weigle.

The vote to approve the East Area Plan doesn’t solidify any recommended zoning changes. Weigle says city is still seeking input from the community on how to move forward with those changes.

For more information on the East Area Plan, visit the city of Denver website.

Tori Mason

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