A September 9 Zoning and Planning (ZAP) committee meeting turned into a heated community meeting when over 100 people gathered at Sam Gary library, with most speakers expressing opposition to plans presented by King Soopers. The proposed store would be located in the Eastbridge neighborhood of Stapleton at MLK and Havana. Community members said the plans are not like the urban town center renderings they were shown when they bought their homes, and they believe they do not follow the principles laid out in the Stapleton Development Plan (the Green Book) for urban town centers.
The biggest issues raised 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 is a concern given the speed of traffic on MLK.
Forest City clarified the status of the development: they have signed a contract to sell the west retail portion and plaza to Evergreen Development and they have a letter of intent from King Soopers (but no signed contract at this time). King Soopers said they are choosing to build at Eastbridge—they did not exercise their right of refusal since no other grocer made an offer.
Stapleton Design Review
The plans presented at the Sept. 9 meeting were not final and no final plan has been submitted to the Stapleton Design Review Committee (SDRC), which has authority to approve architectural plans for all development at Stapleton “balancing the many (Design Review) Criteria to best fit each site, project and context,” according to a September 4 letter from Mark Johnson, head of the Design Review Committee. The letter also states, “The city focuses on zoning matters, rules and regs.”
ZAP is a parallel process to Design Review. They meet monthly to hear from developers about new projects coming to Stapleton. Their role is strictly advisory and their only power is “polite persuasion,” says Chair David Netz, as they point out concerns or make suggestions. He calls it an urban planning review in the context of the Green Book and Denver zoning. ZAP sends their comments to the Citizens Advisory Board, which provides citizen input to the Stapleton Development Corporation and to Forest City. At the September 9 meeting no ZAP committee members spoke—the community members’ concerns filled the allotted time. Netz says future ZAP meetings will stick to protocol, with committee members reviewing projects and public comment in the time left at the end of the meeting—and that will be the format when the final King Soopers plans are submitted.
Changes to the King Soopers Plan
According to Joel Starbuck King Soopers 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. King Soopers says the store needs to be 55,000 square feet to have the requested amenities such as prepared food, organic food and a cheese bar.
According to Tyler Carlson from Evergreen Development, plaza area is about the same size as the fountain area plaza in the East 29th Ave. Town Center (1/2 acre). The retail is designed so the two buildings back up to the street and open to the plaza between the buildings. He expects about eight tenants in 22-23,000 square feet of retail and hopes for four restaurants.
The parking lot
A community member at the meeting said she does not want such a big parking lot and pointed out that the Design Review Committee’s criteria say no more than 45% of the land should be covered with parking. However, a letter written by Design Review Chair Mark Johnson explains the design criteria: “It is the DRC’s evaluation of project elements that is binding, not the Criteria themselves…discretion is in fact the very intent of the existence of the SDRC.”
Carlson pointed out that he is actually concerned that his development is going to be underparked, since restaurants usually have 10 spaces per thousand square feet and he has about half that much—and that he would have a parking problem without the shared space with King Soopers. He cited a Westword article saying 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 30 feet of parking. They put 20 feet in front of the store and 10 feet in the back of the store to make both places more pedestrian friendly.
The current plan has 227 parking spaces for King Soopers and 114 for the retail.
But many of the attendees felt those changes weren’t enough. “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.”
The gas station
The plan for the gas station east of the grocery store has seven fuel pumps to accommodate 14 vehicles. 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 spoke at Denver’s Environmental Health Board meeting in September about the danger of benzene fumes in residential areas. She recommended that gas stations be at least 100 meters from residences. Allshouse is researching regulations in other states or municipalities and will speak to the board again in November.
At the community meeting, 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.”
Pedestrian access and other issues
Given the current speed of traffic and future projected levels of traffic on MLK, safe access for pedestrians to get to the grocery store and retail is a concern. Tyler Carlson agreed and said Evergreen will be meeting with the city traffic department in early October to discuss pedestrian and other access and his company would contribute toward a signal.
The Front Porch asked Councilman Herndon for his thoughts on getting a signalized intersection. “I am always in favor of appropriate traffic measures. The city is monitoring the Eastbridge development and we will make sure the appropriate measures are in place at the correct time,” he said.
King Soopers said the store will not necessarily be open 24 hours and they will solicit community input on hours.
Finding a compromise
Eastbridge resident Buddy Poppitt is anxious enough to get the retail that he’s willing to compromise on the overall plan. “I want to walk to a restaurant. I want to, instead of driving to Quebec, go to a grocery store. 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. 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…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.”