By Wende Reoch
In the summer our 2017, our then 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 Hilltop RNO lies within the boundaries of this initiative (the area north of 6th Ave Pkwy between Colorado Blvd and Holly St where my home is located), 9+CO, the new, mixed use redevelopment of the former CU Health Sciences Center lies within the Plan boundaries and I am interested in its impact, and the third reason I wanted to serve on the Steering Committee, was to learn how these Neighborhood Plans are developed because I think Hilltop should have its own plan. First, I want to share information about the East Denver Plan, then discuss a plan for 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 a 10 – 14 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 in the evenings at The Art Gym in Mayfair for 18 months to work on developing a neighborhood plan for the East Area, defined as the neighborhoods of South Park Hill, East Colfax, Mayfair, Hale, and Montclair. Our charge was to look ahead to 2040 and help plan to meet the challenges and possibilities of the future. Meetings were open to the public and we occasionally had neighbors attend to learn about how the group was developing the plan. Presentations, meeting minutes are available here under the Past Meeting Information link on the right side of the page. The work included surveys of the neighborhoods, data gathering, analysis of the data and the comments/ideas/suggestions submitted during the initial survey period by residents. The next phase drafted vision statements, focus topics and geographic areas, guiding principles and map-based recommendations.
Concurrently, I attended the first public hearing of the rezoning application for the 219-245 So. Holly St (The Green Flats) project and listened to Community Planning Board review rezoning applications on the docket that night. They interviewed the developers of the two preceding projects – both of whom had Neighborhood Plans they and the CPB referred to for guidance. It was evident the CPB used these neighborhood plans to guide them in their decision making. There was no Plan to refer to for The Green Flats either pro or con.
These NPI plans are time consuming and not without cost (staff time for guiding and organizing the neighborhood stakeholders, taking surveys, conducting extensive outreach to the neighborhood which in the case of East Denver includes a number of immigrant communities. 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 immediate queue for NPI but could initiate it on our own. Currently we are grouped together in the Southeast Central Area along with a number of neighborhoods (some similar, some dissimilar to Hilltop) but breaking away to form our own plan is not out of the question. 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.