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Urban Land Conservancy’s SCDA Project Evolves to Include ArtWalk, Farmer’s Market and Community Principals

We caught up with Urban Land Conservancy [1], a 2013 Sustainable Cities Design Academy [2] (SCDA) participant from Denver, Colorado, to get an update on the 40th & Colorado Transit-Oriented Development project.

When the City/County of Denver [3] began planning a new rail station in Denver’s last remaining African American neighborhood, Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) jumped on the opportunity to maximize the project and create equitable, sustainable, transit-oriented community development. In a partnership with the city, county, and the Regional Transportation District (RTD), ULC created a plan to develop a nine-acre parcel adjacent to the rail station. ULC, RTD, and the City/County of Denver brought their plan to SCDA where they worked alongside experts from Bradley Site Design [4], Sam Schwartz Engineering [5], and SvR Design Company [6] to troubleshoot the lack of pedestrian connectivity between the rail station, the ULC site, and the surrounding neighborhood. The progress on their project today is remarkable, spanning various developments from a cultural art walk to a fresh food market. Although there is much work to be done, the local community is increasingly excited about the project as it develops.

Tony Pickett LEED AP, Vice President of Master Site [7] Development at Urban Land Conservancy shared news about the developments at 40th & Colorado. Click here to read our interview with him.

AAF: Since your Urban Land Conservancy team’s experience at SCDA, how has the 40th and Colorado project evolved to incorporate some of the charrette suggestions?

Tony Pickett (TP): Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) has evolved the 40th & Colorado opportunity from a concept to an emerging transit accessible community within three years. ULC purchased a vacant 9.4 acre transit-oriented development site in March 2013 located directly adjacent to the new 40th & Colorado station on Denver’s A-Line transit corridor, which is scheduled to open in April 2016. The site is located in Denver’s sole remaining predominantly African American existing neighborhood of approximately 7,800 residents: Northeast Park Hill. ULC along with key cross sector public, private and philanthropic project stakeholders were all selected to participate in a SCDA June 2013 charrette to inform the planning and implementation of future development of the larger station area. Our non-profit mission-aligned work to create equitable, sustainable, transit oriented community development at the site is currently focused on incorporating the following key SCDA recommendations:

  1. Increase bike/pedestrian connectivity to the station area from the existing neighborhoods within the surrounding area by addressing critical missing or inadequate infrastructure needs
  2. Provide affordable housing options to ensure existing low/moderate income residents are not displaced
  3. Improve storm water management in the station area to accommodate future growth
  4. Increase fresh food access for existing and future residents

Significant progress has been made in expanding the aspirations of our vision for the development and realizing our SCDA based goals over the three year period including:

December 2013 to June 2014 – completion of a seven-month local resident engaged planning effort in partnership with local non-profit community design center, Radian [8], which defined three potential development scenarios and overall community-driven core Principles to guide future build-out of ULC’s 9.4 acre site as follows:

A community meeting in May, 2015. [9]

A community meeting in action.

July 2014

Concepts of Phase I and II [14]

Concepts of Phase I and II

February 2015City/County of Denver Community Planning & Development [15] department staff and consultant team completes and adopts a formal 40th & Colorado Station Area Plan to guide future development with a specific focus on area mixed-use development, infrastructure improvements for improved connectivity and storm water management.

June 2015 ArtPlace America [16] awards ULC a $250K grant for conceptual planning of a new public art themed bike/pedestrian trail, 303 ArtWay [17], a nine-mile cultural loop intended to both celebrate the diverse identity of the existing community and increase/enhance physical access for all residents to the new 40th & Colorado Station transit-oriented development (TOD) amenities and services.

ArtPlace America Heritage Trail concept. [18]

ArtPlace America Heritage Trail concept.

December 2015City/County of Denver Public Works [19] staff and consultant team initiate a comprehensive drainage basin infrastructure improvement initiative, Platte to Park Hill Stormwater Systems [20], including the 40th & Colorado station area. The plan is a unique opportunity to provide a foundation for phased flood protection as well as identify other opportunities for community improvements and amenities in Denver’s Cole, Globeville, Elyria, Swansea, River North, Clayton and Northeast Park Hill communities through the Platte to Park Hill Stormwater Systems project. This project will provide a foundation to help identify opportunities for phased community improvements, such as:

January 2016 – ULC initiates negotiations with a private development partner to complete the remaining multiple phase build-out of approximately 6.7 acres of TOD at the 40th & Colorado station. A variety of community benefits are included in the proposed program uses: Phase 1a = 200-250 rental units, Phase 2 = 18,000 square feet ground floor public fresh food market with three stories above for 54,000 square foot office or added residential options.

Housing progress in winter of 2016. [21]

Housing progress in winter 2016.

PHVW 3 [22]

Housing progress.

AAF: How has this project changed Denver residents’ perception of transit-oriented development?

TP: Throughout 2013 and 2014, ULC worked with community members and stakeholders of five neighborhoods adjacent to the 40th & Colorado station including Northeast Park Hill, Clayton, Elyria-Swansea, and Globeville and partnered with local community organizing entities and resources from The Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods [23] program, Mile High Connects [24], Together Colorado [25], FRESC [26], LiveWell Colorado [27], and Shorter AME Church [28]. The resulting education and information exchange over a seven-month period concluded with the adoption of a set of five Community Principles which reflect the values expressed by a consensus of the resident stakeholders.

The surrounding communities have seen ULC’s vacant TOD site begin a transformation to secure a meaningful place for them to benefit from the plans for growth in the new transit station area, reflecting their direct concerns and stated goals with the 2016 construction completion of 156 affordable housing units, the launch of the 303 ArtWay cultural trail to increase connectivity to local neighborhoods while celebrating local diversity, the 2016 construction completion of an additional 119 affordable multifamily rental units by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless [29] as well as planning and implementation of the Platte to Park Hill Stormwater Systems initiative. Initial expectations of local community resident displacement and “building for others” are being dispelled by our exciting visible progress in achieving equitable development outcomes, however the over 600 household waiting list for the new affordable housing rentals in the station area and securing the critical financial resources to realize the remaining plans for creating a new 18,000 square foot public market fresh food retail in the existing food desert are still required to fulfill expectations and strengthen resident trust.

AAF: How has this project impacted other TOD projects in the Denver area, either in conceptual planning or development?

TP: Our active work at ULC, using an innovative $15M Denver TOD acquisition loan pool fund to secure multiple transit accessible development sites, leveraging the $4.7B investment in Denver’s FasTracks [30] regional rail and bus transit build out, is viewed as a catalyst for equitable TOD in the Denver region. ULC early strategic land acquisitions at multiple existing rail stations including 38th & Blake, Evans, Yale, Sheridan and most recently the future 40th & Colorado and National Western Center stations, are recognized by the Denver Council of Regional Governments [31] and local transit authority RTD [32] as key locations to realize the RTD goal for creating Transit Oriented Communities to serve a wide spectrum of Denver residents. In addition, ULC’s current place-based real estate investment portfolio of $66M in 26 assets also includes a variety of non-profit community serving TOD facilities, directly adjacent to high frequency bus routes, such as a new Boys and Girls Club, a quality K-5 charter elementary school, a high school for parenting teens and a 35,000 square foot seven-story office tower along the 15L high frequency bus line in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

AAF: What are your lessons learned from this mixed-use, TOD neighborhood development, to date?

TP: Acquiring key parcels of land and buildings as early as possible in strategic locations adjacent to planned future public transit investment is the first essential step to assure delivery of community serving uses such as affordable housing, fresh food retail, and non-profit office space. Early integration of agreed upon Equitable TOD outcomes with consistent and authentic community engaged planning for the design of physical infrastructure investment is also critical to achieve success. Retaining long term control of land and real estate assets by use of a 99-year land lease has proven to be a successful mechanism to deliver community desired benefits in partnership with private for-profit developers. Whenever possible, ULC also encourages broad collaboration across sectors to leverage resources from private finance and development entities, government agencies, philanthropic partners and other mission aligned non-profits.

In order to expand the impact of Equitable TOD efforts significant public policy changes are required to direct greater resources and dedicated grants and below market low interest loan funding toward goals for affordable housing and other essential community serving uses. To date ULC has been unsuccessful in achieving creation and use of a TOD station area focused tax increment financing district, which if implemented in partnership with a high performing private development partner, could fund critical infrastructure and subsidize a variety of community benefits at any of our current TOD sites.

Watch the video below to see where the project was in 2013.

SCDA 10: 40th/Colorado Transit Oriented Development, Denver, CO Team [33] from AAF / @AAFDesign [34] on Vimeo [35].