Development in the works at Mineral and Santa Fe

Plans moving ahead for shops, hundreds of homes, apartments on Ensor property

Posted 6/3/19

Plans to build hundreds of homes, apartments and shops on vacant land near Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive are moving ahead, adding pressure on city officials to address congestion at the …

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Development in the works at Mineral and Santa Fe

Plans moving ahead for shops, hundreds of homes, apartments on Ensor property

Posted

Plans to build hundreds of homes, apartments and shops on vacant land near Mineral Avenue and Santa Fe Drive are moving ahead, adding pressure on city officials to address congestion at the notoriously clogged intersection.

Evergreen Devco, a Denver-based developer, hopes to go before city officials and public hearings late this summer to get final approvals for a plan to build hundreds of apartments, senior living units and several retail buildings on 33 acres at the southwest corner of the intersection.

Meanwhile, Denver-based PCS Group has filed preliminary paperwork with the city to build between 500 and 800 dwellings on a 77-acre parcel just south of Evergreen's land.

Together, the two parcels make up the old Ensor property, formerly owned by well-known midcentury developer K.C. Ensor.

Though Evergreen has agreed to a plan that would reroute some traffic through their development, city officials say the developments will add another layer of complexity to efforts to alleviate one of Littleton's biggest traffic headaches.

Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman said traffic on Santa Fe will only keep growing, citing developments like Sterling Ranch to the south, and more projects underway in Highlands Ranch.

“It's only going to get worse,” Brinkman said. “Development is preceding infrastructure, when it should be the other way around.”

If you build it

Littleton scored a $9 million federal grant this spring to build upgrades to the intersection, said City Manager Mark Relph, but that will only go so far.

The ultimate goal, Relph said, is to turn the intersection into a freeway-like on-ramp and off-ramp setup like the crossing with Belleview Avenue to the north, but that could take years and cost upwards of $100 million. The city is engaged in a larger process to seek partnerships and grants to raise the full amount, Relph said.

In the meantime, Relph hopes the federal grant will pay to acquire right-of-ways, conduct engineering and design work, and build sufficient physical improvements to rework the intersection enough to hold congestion at bay.

“It's a major engineering challenge,” Relph said. “You've got the railroad on the east, RTD on the west, and Ensor to the south. It's a very tight spot to maneuver. Getting all the parties to agree and work together is tricky.”

The city is currently narrowing down possible new arrangements at the intersection, Relph said, including a sort of half-circle road that would route some traffic through Evergreen's property and up past the RTD Mineral Light Rail station. The plans will likely take three to four years to come to fruition, Relph said.

Being asked to give up land to make room for commuters is less than ideal for Evergreen, said Tyler Carlson, one of the company's managing partners, but they're willing to do their part to help with congestion.

“Our residential planners aren't thrilled to have a whole lot of extra traffic through the site,” Carlson said. “On our retail side, though, it's great. The more cars past our stores, the better. At the end of the day it's just the right thing to do.”

Down by the river

Evergreen still needs to go through public hearings and get city council's blessings on their development plans, according to documents filed with the city, because they're hoping to amend the site's 1980s-vintage zoning to conform with modern land use sensibilities.

The site's current zoning mandates commercial uses on the property's west edge, near the South Platte River, with residential uses closer to the highway. But 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.

The project, previously called Parkland, is now called River Park to reflect the importance of the river in site planning, Carlson said.

The project calls for roughly 250 apartments, Carlson said, plus an additional 150 units in the senior living facility. The northeastern commercial side would be home to a smattering of retail uses.

Evergreen is confident they can build successful retail on the site, Carlson said, avoiding the snail's-pace growth of retail in other nearby developments in the face of a shift toward online shopping.

“We're aware of the challenges in the retail world,” Carlson said. “The retail component won't be tied to any particular anchor or big-box. We're thinking more in terms of chef-driven restaurants, entertainment, and fitness facilities.”

River Park would abut the south end of South Platte Park, and Evergreen hopes the proximity will prove a beneficial amenity for residents.

South Suburban Parks and Recreation, which manages the park, is working with Evergreen to ensure a reasonable buffer between the development and the park, said Brett Collins, South Suburban's director of planning and development.

“We'd want a fence between the properties, and we're only allowing one pedestrian access point per development,” Collins said.

Evergreen plans to build a water retention pond within the park, according to documents. Collins said the pond could actually prove to be an amenity, and might bolster wetlands near the river.

Bring it on home

The plans to build hundreds of homes on the south end of the Ensor property are still a little more nebulous.

Documents filed with the city call for 500 for-sale townhomes and single-family detached units, or up to 800 units if the development team pursues multifamily housing.

Representatives from developer PCS Group and homebuilder Toll Brothers did not respond to phone calls and email requests for comment.

Mayor Brinkman said she's seen numerous plans for the site come and go over the years, and nothing has yet come to fruition on the site.

Though documents don't specify the planned price range of the proposed housing, Brinkman said more upscale properties will do little to alleviate the city's housing challenges, and said the lack of retail on the site means the property will likely cost the city money in increased services rather than generate revenue through sales tax.

The plans do include a tract that could be used for commercial or retail purposes, though a PCS document says the company is also in talks with Littleton Public Schools on whether the site would be appropriate for a new school.

A new school is a possibility, said LPS spokeswoman Diane Leiker, but not a guarantee.

“The district's Long Range Planning Committee continues to look at all kinds of aspects of the district,” Leiker said in an email. “The committee has noted that the south side of the district may need a school in the future. Certainly, LPS will talk with any developer of any size about potential school sites.”

Brinkman said she recognizes that many Littleton residents are skeptical of new growth, but hopes people recognize she and city staff can't stop builders on the Ensor tracts.

“They've got private property rights, and we can't infringe on those,” Brinkman said. “People have gotten used to a big empty field there, but housing developments have always been in the cards.”

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