By Larry Ambrose
Lawsuits originally filed against the City of Denver and EnviroFinance Group (EFG), developer of the old St. Anthony Hospital site, to stop the development of up to 12 story buildings on 17th Avenue across from Sloan’s Lake Park, have moved to the Colorado Court of Appeals with legal representation by attorney Gregory Kerwin from the Denver office of the international law firm of Gibson Dunn. The law suits were originally filed in March and December of 2015 by long-time NW Denver resident and attorney, David R. Medina who represented the Plaintiff’s in the suit, the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association and nearby residents’ pro bono publico (without charge for the public good).
Mr. Medina passed away unexpectedly on September 26, 2016. Originally from Pueblo, David rose from the ranks as a carpenter to become business manager for the Carpenters Union. After attending law school at the University of Nebraska he served as an Assistant District Attorney in Pueblo and labor union lawyer. He is survived by his children who grew up in NW Denver, Tone and Jose Medina and Olga Avila as well as many loving grandchildren.
The lawsuits challenge the February 17, 2015 and November 23, 2015 Denver City Council decisions to approve rezoning of two square blocks across from Sloan’s Lake Park for 8-to-12 story luxury high rise condominiums and apartments. The basis for the suits has been the resident’s contention that the City Council decisions were not consistent with a prior City Council approved and adopted plan stemming from a two-year community based planning process in 2005 and 2006. The primary feature of that plan called for taller buildings and high-density to be placed close to West Colfax and away from Sloan’s Lake Park.
In order to overturn a zoning decision by Denver City Council, a Plaintiff must show the City of Denver erred as a matter of law, and abused its discretion, in failing correctly to enforce the Denver Zoning Code’s requirement that zoning changes be consistent with “adopted plans.” However, Denver District Court Judge Eric Elliff ruled against the neighborhood Plaintiffs giving Denver unlimited discretion to adopt any zoning change, regardless of obvious conflicts with adopted plans, by deferring to the Denver City Council’s own “judgment in determining if the amendments are consistent with the relevant guidance.”
The precedent being set in this case is, therefore, of citywide importance. The issue at stake here is that, inasmuch as where there is a community based planning process that results in a plan that is adopted by City Council as an ordinance and which becomes part of the City’s Comprehensive Plan, can the Council ignore and not follow that plan when considering a future rezoning request? The Plaintiffs in this case maintain that to allow the City Council to ignore specific requirements in adopted neighborhood plans will make meaningless, community involvement in the planning process.
Meanwhile, the block bounded by Stuart Street on the west and Raleigh on the east and 16th and 17th Avenues on the south and north, touted by its developer/promoter NAVA Development as the “Lakehouse” features a sales office with fancy models of the high-rise development with units selling for more than $ 1 million and for more than $ 600 per square foot. It is not clear, however, that NAVA has actually purchased the land from EFG and groundbreaking is not scheduled until spring of 2017. The same is true of the block just to the east along 17th Avenue which is to be developed by Houston based Hines Development. It appears that the land has yet to transfer title from EFG to Hines and groundbreaking is not scheduled until the summer of 2017.
Larry Ambrose is Vice President of the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association. A copy of the Opening Brief to the Colorado Court of Appeals referenced above is available as an October 7 post on the Sloan’s Lake Neighborhood Association Facebook page.
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