Developer proposes mixed-use project for Ensor property

Hundreds of apartments possible south of Mineral light rail station

Posted 7/16/18

One of the largest remaining parcels of undeveloped land in Littleton might become home to the city’s latest large-scale mixed-use development, but there are a lot of details to hammer out first. …

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Developer proposes mixed-use project for Ensor property

Hundreds of apartments possible south of Mineral light rail station

Posted

One of the largest remaining parcels of undeveloped land in Littleton might become home to the city’s latest large-scale mixed-use development, but there are a lot of details to hammer out first.

The property at the southwest corner of South Santa Fe Drive and West Mineral Avenue — just south of the Littleton/Mineral light rail station and the Aspen Grove shopping center — is a rare remnant of agricultural land in the increasingly urbanized corridor.

The Ensor family, descendants of well-known midcentury developer K.C. Ensor, sold the north 33 acres of their roughly 110-acre holdings to Evergreen Devco, a 43-year-old real estate development firm with projects around the Southwest, for $6.5 million late last year.

Evergreen Devco has begun rolling out its vision for the site in recent weeks, publishing a proposal for a development called Parkland (called Parkfield in some documents). The project would extend South Platte River Parkway south through the middle of the property, with a cluster of apartments and a senior living facility on the west side of the road, and a variety of retail and office buildings on the east.

The plans call for more than 300 luxury apartments in six buildings, and another 100-200 units in the senior living facility. The eastern commercial side would be home to a smattering of uses, including several restaurants, a multistory office building, a gas station and a cluster of storefronts arranged around a central plaza.

The tricky part is that the site’s zoning — drawn up in the mid-1980s — calls for essentially the opposite, allowing residential uses near the highway and commercial uses closer to the South Platte River at the site’s western edge.

“That’s just not good, modern land use,” said Tyler Carlson, a managing partner at Evergreen. “30 years ago, people still turned their backs to the river. Now, we want to leverage it as an amenity.”

It makes more sense to pull residential use away from the noisy highway, Carlson said, whereas putting commercial uses far from the highway could spell trouble for retailers seeking visibility to commuters.

In the zone

The discrepancy between zoning and vision means Parkland must go through a public process, requiring hearings before city staff and boards, as well as city council and the public.

Evergreen has kicked off the process by utilizing Littleton’s recently-approved “P4” process, which allows a sort of spitballing session between city staff and city council regarding the developer’s plans, though the applicants themselves do not speak.

The session, held in June, yielded tweaks to the design that Evergreen has agreed to employ, said community development director Jocelyn Mills in a July 10 study session. Evergreen upped Parkland’s open space from 20 percent of the area to 25 percent, she said, and increased building setbacks from the property’s edges.

Still, Evergreen’s proposed amendments to the site’s zoning could allow for bigger changes — most notably a request to up the maximum allowable height for buildings on the site from 70 feet to 100.

The proposed office building could benefit from the increased height limit, according to an Evergreen design narrative presented to the city, because “this building is intended to have a significant architectural presence when viewed from South Platte River Parkway.”

The project has other complicating factors: the intersection of Mineral and Santa Fe is often cited as among the most congested in the city and is the subject of a long-term study seeking to alleviate daily traffic jams.

Carlson said he recognizes the concerns over traffic, but says it’s not entirely Evergreen’s problem.

“I think it would be dishonest to say we’re not going to impact traffic,” Carlson said. “But the street grid was designed with the idea of this property being developed. It’s not the role of one individual project to solve the traffic woes of the area. We’ll study our impact and mitigate to the degree we can, and we’re ready to partner with the city and the Department of Transportation on long-term solutions.”

Carlson said Evergreen is being cognizant of density and traffic concerns, and is holding back the dwelling units on the site to 50 per acre, below the maximum allowable 98 per acre.

Council skeptical

City council members expressed some trepidation about the project proposal at a recent study session, with traffic and the viability of retail chief concerns.

“If this applicant moves forward with this, I’d expect a comprehensive and thorough traffic study,” said Councilmember Karina Elrod. “I’m very concerned we’re exacerbating an F-grade area… it’s very complex and we’re in a bad situation already.”

Large-scale retail developments aren’t a sure bet anymore, said Councilmember Carol Fey, citing the Littleton Village development at Broadway and Dry Creek Road, a similar project divided between residential and commercial uses.

Though Littleton Village’s residences are sold out, the other half of the property — billed as a walkable retail and restaurant district — is still largely a vacant lot. Other shopping centers in the area, such as Englewood’s CityCenter and Littleton’s Riverside Downs, have struggled with retail vacancies attributed to a shift toward online shopping and lack of visibility from major thoroughfares.

“I hear almost weekly how disappointed the residents (of Littleton Village) are that the restaurants and entertainment they were promised are not there,” Fey said. “And those same things are written up here as how wonderful they would be. I would want to see signed contracts this time around. People bought houses based on developers’ promises, and now the city is dealing with their dissatisfaction.”

Mayor Debbie Brinkman said she felt the plan wasn’t very imaginative.

“It would be a much more dynamic community if their residential mixed in with the zoning,” Brinkman said. “I think it’s a missed opportunity.”

Still, Brinkman said she was thankful the developer was seeking rezoning, because it allows more input from stakeholders and the public.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Brinkman said.

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