Since the release of a conceptual site plan for a King Soopers in Eastbridge in late April, there have been numerous community meetings and voices expressing views that range from relief that a grocery store is finally coming to consternation that the site plan doesn’t resemble the town center residents say was advertised when they purchased their homes.
Stapleton’s Zoning and Planning Committee (ZAP) Chairman, David Netz, at the July ZAP meeting, said people have told him, “We anticipated something like 29th Ave Town Center.” Since no official site plan has been presented to ZAP for the citizen review process, Netz used the July meeting time to talk “big picture” about what a town center really is. He says the Urban Land Institute (ULI) defines a town center as, “an enduring, walkable integrated open air multi-use development organized around a clearly identifiable and energized public realm where citizens can gather and strengthen their community bonds. It is anchored by retail, dining, and leisure uses, as well as by vertical or horizontal residential uses.” Netz adds that town centers also have identifying features that say, “You’re now entering a town center,” which may include lighting, landscaping, public art and traffic calming devices. He also pointed out ULI’s ten principles for developing successful town centers, the second of which is “Respect market realities.”
That seems to be where “the rubber hits the road” in Eastbridge.
Jim Chrisman, senior vice president of Forest City Stapleton says Forest City spent $8-900,000 on plans for a town center with a smaller grocery store and a main street along Geneva Court that would have resembled the 29th Ave. Town Center and they had a commitment to building it, but it turned out to be “unexecutable.” He says despite years of trying, no small grocer would commit.
“If this site were wider and not as long, you could have room for the Kings and you could do something along Geneva, more like 29th. But the dimensions of that parcel don’t lend itself to that with this size grocery.” Chrisman said they looked at several approaches and went with the current site plan because it consolidates all the retail space in one area so they could create an environment that, “Once you walked into it would be very peaceful, relaxing, accommodating outdoor public space. The other plans didn’t do as good a job of that. They were just shops. A couple buildings with parking distributed around them, but they did not accomplish in my mind the best opportunity to create a sense of place…I think people have lost sight of that because we haven’t had anything specific to show.”
Eastbridge resident Todd Ahlenius came to the July Stapleton Development Corporation meeting representing a group of residents who are distributing a flyer and yard signs that say, “Imagine a Great Town Center in Eastbridge. Do what you promised Forest City.”
In response to our observation, “What the community can’t get out of their heads is a big suburban- looking parking lot in the middle of a new urbanist neighborhood–—they look at the plan and they just see concrete,” Chrisman said the parking lot won’t be visible from within the town center. The town center will have 22,000 square feet of retail, and the plaza will be segregated from the street traffic and the parking lot by the buildings. To put that in perspective, all the retail on one side of the 29th Ave Town Center from Quebec to the Crescent is about 26,000 square feet. And in the 29th Ave. Town Center people can’t let their kids roam while they’re sitting on the patio eating.
“If you’re not in real estate and you saw the 29th Ave Town Center and you have one vision of what it is, when you see something that is different from that I guess you object to it. A town center means many different things to different people. I think what we will develop in Eastbridge will be every bit the town center that East 29th is in terms of what it brings in community gathering and outdoor eating space and public amenities and all those types of things. It’s just going to be done in a different way,” said Chrisman.
He added, “People need to remember, you can reduce the parking and then you put yourself in a situation like Trader Joe’s where it all bleeds out into the neighborhoods and you have traffic issues in your neighborhoods, and I don’t think that’s very appealing or appropriate.
“They are looking at creating a lot more space in front of the store than you typically see at any King Soopers store, with a public outdoor seating area and umbrellas outside the Starbucks and planter boxes and so on to kind of insulate the pedestrian area from the vehicular area.”
The town center and immediate area around King Soopers may be insulated from the parking lot, but what about the view from the street? Will there be landscaping to shield the big parking lot from the view of passers by and neighbors?
“We’re not at that level yet but I imagine there will be landscape treatments along the perimeter to try to mitigate some of the visual impact,” says Chrisman, adding that in August or September King Soopers will present their latest plans publicly at the CAB or ZAP meeting and residents can ask that question. (The Front Porch will announce the meeting on our website and Facebook.) Although the contract hasn’t been signed, Chrisman says, “I’m confident that they’ll open a store either next fall or the following spring.
Asked about pedestrian access concerns, Chrisman said Denver has authority over the roads and he suggests that concerned residents get into the site planning process with the city and make their views known. “When Kings submits it I’ll ask the same question,” he says.
Chrisman also said Peter Calthorpe, who was a pioneer in the concept of new urbanism and a consultant to Forest City in the design of Stapleton, saw the current Eastbridge plan and agreed it’s the best that can be done given the constraints of the property.