By Wende Reoch
Last summer our City Council member, Mary Beth Susman, asked me to sit on a Steering Committee for the East Denver Neighborhood Planning Initiative. I accepted for three reasons: a small section of our RNO lies within the boundaries of this initiative (North Hilltop, where my home is located), within the boundary of this East Denver Neighborhood Plan is 9+CO, the new, mixed use redevelopment of the former CU Health Sciences Center and I am interested in helping to shape how it fits into this part of Denver, and the third reason I wanted to serve on the Steering Committee, was to learn how these Neighborhood Plans are formed and developed — because I think Hilltop should start developing its own plan. First, I want to share information about the East Denver Plan, then Hilltop.
In 2016 the City rolled out the Neighborhood Planning Initiation (NPI) with a commitment to develop Plans for the 42% of the city without plans over the next 10 – 12 year period.
Small area plans can guide both the city and the neighborhood in several ways:
- They engage neighborhood stakeholders in identifying a future vision for the area and then provide strategies and recommendations for achieving that vision.
- They provide detailed recommendations for land use and future investments to help ensure neighborhoods grow as envisioned by the plan.
- They provide a level of analysis, detail, and guidance on issues affecting local areas that citywide plans (Blueprint Denver and DenveRight) cannot.
The East Area Plan Steering Committee met once a month to develop a neighborhood plan for the East Area, defined as the neighborhoods of South Park Hill, East Colfax, Mayfair, Hale, and Montclair. Meetings were usually held the fourth Thursday from 6pm to 8pm at The Art Gym (1460 Leyden St) and the meetings were open to the public to attend and learn about how the group was developing a future neighborhood plan. Presentations, meeting minutes are available here. The work included several surveys of the neighborhoods, data gathering, analysis of the data and the comments submitting during several surveys and public gatherings. Another phase focused on draft vision statements, focus topics and geographic areas, guiding principles and map-based recommendations. One of the liveliest meetings was a discussion of housing stock – what does and doesn’t fit in the context of a particular street or section of the area. LOTS of opinions and respectful disagreement. We are all understandably passionate about our neighborhoods.
Setting a plan is a first step to getting improvements/setting priorities. Plans are a guide for getting things done in a city, and neighborhoods with them are more likely to get resources sooner, i.e. bond expenditures, park improvements, traffic mitigation implementation, safety and security innovations from DPD and DFD, etc.
It was a great experience for me to learn more about East Denver, meet other neighborhood activists who are engaged and thoughtful about growth and how we can best guide it. For Greater Hilltop (if you will) I have this caution: two years ago I attended the initial public hearing of the rezoning application for the 219-245 So. Holly St project (aka The Green Flats). I listened to the Community Planning Board review the applications on their agenda and interview the developers of the two projects preceding the rezoning in our neighborhood. It was evident the CPB relied these small area or neighborhood plans to guide them in their decision making. Hilltop does not have a plan. There will be more growth and more rezoning applications in our neighborhood. We need a plan.
These plans take time and are not without cost (staff time for guide and organizing the neighborhood stakeholders, etc) and the city is currently focusing on areas with pressing needs, for example, East Denver is experiencing some significant changes, such as the 9+CO mixed use project, as well as plans to add Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along Colfax Avenue. Our area, Hilltop, is relatively stable compared to other areas in the city and therefore not in the queue but could initiate it on our own. Currently Hilltop is lumped together in the Southeast Central Area along with a number of neighborhoods. Breaking away to form our own plan is possible but expensive. Residents and organizations can take advantage of specific city resources and guidance to begin to lay the groundwork for their future plans and the city provides a Neighborhood Toolkit to get a head start. If you are interested in getting involved or learning more about this, send us an email.