Approximately 100 people gathered at Sam Gary library on September 9 to hear from King Soopers and Evergreen Development about the plans for Eastbridge. However, many were there not to look at plans but to express their anger that the plans did not address their concerns.
The biggest issues were: the parking lot is too big and people think it looks like a suburban big box store; there was strong opposition to a gas station in a residential area; and safe pedestrian access will be a problem given the speed of traffic.
Forest City clarified the status of the development. They have signed a contract to sell the west retail portion and plaza to Evergreen Development. They have a letter of intent from King Soopers but no signed contract at this time. King Soopers added they did not exercise their right of refusal—no one else made an offer. They are choosing to build at Eastbridge.
The plans presented at this meeting were not final and no final plan has been submitted to the Stapleton Design Review Committee (SDRC), which has ultimate authority to approve plans for all development at Stapleton. David Netz, chair of the Zoning and Planning committee (ZAP), said ZAP will submit a report to the SDRC with the concerns raised at this meeting. He added that the land is zoned for the intended uses so the city can’t say no to this use.
Joel Starbuck of King Soopers described their ideas to address community concerns: They made the walkway across the front wider than normal as a buffer to cars and more pedestrian friendly. They created an outdoor seating area that adjoins an indoor seating area, with coffee and a deli nearby. They placed trees along a north-south walkway near where Geneva Court would have been. They created a wider pedestrian area along Havana. There will be landscaping all the way around the perimeter of the store and parking lot. The store will have energy efficiencies such as skylights and lights in coolers and displays that automatically go on and off based on the presence of shoppers.
Kelli McGannon, King Soopers spokesperson, said the store is 55,000 square feet, and they have built very few under 65,000 in the last 10 years. Their big suburban stores are 120,000 square feet. She explained that to have the requested amenities such as prepared food, organic food and a cheese bar, they need the size they’re building.
Tyler Carlson, representing Evergreen Development, followed King Soopers presentation with a description of the retail at the west end. The plans on display showed buildings that back up to the street and open to a plaza between the two buildings. Carlson clarified that the buildings will have 360 degree architecture so the street view won’t look like the backs of stores, but stores will just open to the plaza. He expects about eight tenants in 22-23,000 square feet and hopes for four restaurants.
The parking lot
A resident, after hearing the presentations, said, “Tyler, I would like to tell you that I want you to have more land.
“King Soopers, what I want to tell you is your parking lot is too big. If you can get your parking lot into a space that is more reasonable, 45% of the land is what is listed in the Stapleton design guidelines, we can talk. We don’t want as much parking lot. Period.”
Carlson responded, “I know it sounds blasphemous in this room, but I’m actually concerned that because of the amount of restaurant space we’re targeting that we’re going to be underparked, at least on my end. Restaurants tend to be 10 per thousand and I have about half that much. Look at Westword today. The three worst places in Denver are the Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Sprouts parking lots because they’re all underparked.”
Forest City’s Jim Chrisman said they had removed some parking to make it more pedestrian friendly. “We took 30 feet out. We took 20 feet of that and put it in front of the store to make it more pedestrian friendly. The other 10 was put in the back of the store to move it off Havana and make it a little more friendly as well.”
The current plan has 227 parking spaces for King Soopers and 114 for the retail.
But the changes didn’t meet the expectations of many, as expressed by this attendee, “What we object to is you’re trying to build a box store with a giant parking lot in what is supposed to be zoned as a town center. If you guys can find a way to work with us to change from that, we’re going to be happy and embrace your store. If you don’t, if this is what’s going to be built I can guarantee you’re going to have people boycotting you, you’re going to have people raising issues and talking to the media and upset. There are things you can do but so far everything I’ve heard today is you giving us lip service.”
The gas station
Gas station objections were as strong as parking lot objections. SUN board member Amanda Allshouse said, to a round of applause, “I firmly believe it’s not in the best interest of the community to have a gas station.” She cited statistics from the recent SUN survey of 1,500 residents that 48% do not want a gas station, 24% have no preference, and 28% are in favor of a gas station. Allshouse said she will be speaking in front of the Environmental Health board to recommend that gas stations be at least 100 meters from residences.
Another resident said, “I would love to shop at your store, but I will not do it if you build a gas station.”
Starbuck commented, “Fuel centers have come a long way.” But when asked about living next to one, he said, “Do I want one across from my house? No.” The plan for the gas station east of the grocery store has seven fuel pumps to accommodate 14 vehicles.
A question was raised about safe access for pedestrians to get to the grocery store and retail. Tyler Carlson agreed that is a concern and said Evergreen will lobby the city traffic engineers. As a Stapleton dad of four kids, he added, “We need that connection to be easy. I want my kids to be able to walk there in a pedestrian crossing.” The suggested crossing place would be at the north-south sidewalk through the parking lot (approximately where Geneva Court would be).
One person asked about the problem of trucks driving through the neighborhood. Starbuck said trucks will come in on Havana, unload and head east and back out Havana so they will have minimal impact on the neighborhood. He added that King Soopers has worked with neighbors to limit the hours that trucks can unload to minimize noise in the night.
One attendee showed a chart of crime in the Eastbridge neighborhood and expressed concern than a 24-hour store could increase that problem. Starbuck said the store will not necessarily be open 24 hours and King Soopers would solicit community input on hours.
A number of attendees were angry they were not getting the town center they’d been promised when they purchased their homes, as expressed by Yasmin Bijan-Wilson. “You sold all these people top dollar real estate with the idea of a town center. You’re reneging on a promise. It’s bait and switch,” she told Chrisman. “Now you need to put in what the community was promised. People were charged extra for their lots to be across from a walkable town center. This is what was sold to a community and we spent collectively millions of dollars, so it feels like Main St versus Wall Street.”
On a more optimistic note
Eastbridge resident Buddy Poppitt made the final comment of the meeting. “I have been looking at a vacant lot for eight years. That’s not a town center either. I want to walk to a restaurant. I want to, instead of driving to Quebec, go to a grocery store. I would love that. A fuel center? I don’t think it belongs here. I’ve been an architect for 20 years. This is not new urbanism. Neither is a big grass lot. “What they’re saying is true. We need the anchor of some type. I agree I would like to see a smaller store. Because we have (a big) one on Quebec we don’t need the same store. (But) we need the parking to have restaurants. We need the King Soopers to get the Evergreen Development, which I can’t wait to have happen. So everyone needs to tone it down a little bit. Not everybody knows all the details about the business…and just listen a little bit. And I think and I hope after this meeting, between SUN and Forest City and these guys I have faith that all these guys are going to come up with a good solution.”
King Soopers spokesperson McGannon added, “We’re not here to alienate you, we’re here to work with you.”