Open space, high density or somewhere in the middle?

Views conflict on downtown development as sale of properties nears

Posted 6/11/19

Parker town officials have a vision: a downtown with a walkable marketplace, a variety of dining choices — an exciting, vibrant space that draws customers to downtown and generates revenue. The …

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Open space, high density or somewhere in the middle?

Views conflict on downtown development as sale of properties nears

Posted

Parker town officials have a vision: a downtown with a walkable marketplace, a variety of dining choices — an exciting, vibrant space that draws customers to downtown and generates revenue.

The heart of that picture is five city-owned, mostly vacant properties, ranging in size from one-third of an acre to 24 acres, and stretching along a 10-minute walk on East Mainstreet between the Parker Vista neighborhood to the east and the Schoolhouse to the west.

The largest parcel, known as the Pine Curve property, is 24 acres and spans Pine Drive near the Mainstreet intersection. PACE Lot 2 is a 1.4-acre strip of land north of the Performing Arts and Culture center in downtown Parker at Mainstreet’s west end. The other properties are a .34-acre lot at 19640 E. Mainstreet, a .94-acre lot at 19801 E. Mainstreet and a lot covering four acres at 20117 E. Mainstreet.

The plan reflects what citizens, based on a survey, want, Mayor Mike Waid said.

“The far majority have asked for some level of vibrant, convenient and fun development to happen,” he said in an email to the Parker Chronicle in March. “I have been involved in two of the three community engagement projects over the past decade on this (Pine Curve) property, and in every situation a very large percentage of citizens from all of Parker have provided extremely valuable input as to what they would like to see there.”

But at least one small citizens’ group and two councilmembers are fighting to rezone the Pine Curve and PACE Lot 2 properties to maintain them as open space or parks. The five-member organization, called Save PACE Parking and Pine Curve 3.0, is leading a petition drive for a ballot measure in November that would ask residents to do just that. They have until October to collect signatures. If they can’t meet this year’s deadline, members said they hope to have a measure on the 2020 ballot.

“In truth, the Town Council never considered keeping these two properties as they are or as Open Space or a Park,” the About section of the group’s Facebook page reads. “Based on community feedback over the years, we think they were wrong not to explore such options. Both properties are vital to Parker’s future and obviously controversial ... We support the people of Parker deciding directly what happens to these properties.”

Survey results, lot prices, process at center of disagreement

The five properties form the crux of the My Mainstreet Project, an initiative led by Partnering for Parker’s Progress (P3), the town’s urban renewal authority, to decide what the future of downtown should look like, how those plans can be implemented and how best to develop the properties. They are considered prime real estate for developers because of the opportunity to shape downtown Parker.

All five lots are zoned as “Greater Downtown” to “encourage intensity, activity and identity” to Parker, according to the town’s website, parkeronline.org.

To find out what residents wanted, the P3 — whose board comprises Waid and all five councilmembers — conducted a year-long survey of more than 1,971 residents that asked what kind of businesses or housing opportunities should go in downtown Parker. Throughout 2017, the authority set up booths at town events to survey residents.

The results, released in January, showed residents wanted amenities like breweries, restaurants and boutique retail. Residents also suggested the Pine Curve property should be used as a walkable marketplace with the possibility of a major grocer as a tenant.

But councilmembers Cheryl Poage and Jeff Toborg say that 1,971 respondents out of Parker’s 54,000-plus population is too small a sample to accurately represent the town’s wishes. And the citizens’ group has said the option for parks and open space was not included in the survey.

“What it boils down to is everyone has a right to their personal opinion,” Waid said in an email. “The town council is elected to make decisions, which they feel are best for all of Parker, not just a single small group. Just because their opinion may differ from someone else’s doesn’t mean they are dishonest, just that they have a different opinion.”

In March, town officials began soliciting proposals from developers to buy one or more of the five properties and develop them within the framework of the My Mainstreet Project. Because of nondisclosure agreements, town officials said they could not release information on the proposals submitted so far.

Gene Gregory, developer with Gregory and Sons of Franktown, said he submitted a proposal to bring a steakhouse and some lower-density businesses to PACE Lot 2 and the 4-acre East Main property across the street to the north. But he said the town did not reply. Gregory, who said he submitted a low offer, said the town is asking almost twice the appraised value of the land.

On the Douglas County Assessor’s website, the 19640 E. Mainstreet property is valued at about $200,000. NavPoint Real Estate, which the town is using to market the properties, has listed that property at $25 per square foot, which would bring the total asking price for the lot to about $375,000.

“To that effect, nobody’s bought anything,” Gregory said. “I don’t want to make a huge investment in the property (if) the community doesn’t support it … A project like this, that’s kind of controversial, you want to make sure you have the public behind you.”

Gregory said many developers are wary of the citizen committee’s petition drive, which requires about 5,700 signatures of valid voters by mid-October.

“If I try to do my development and spend 100 grand and the voters say, ‘No,we want a park,’ I just lost 100 grand,” Gregory said. “If you look at PACE and Pine Curve, they’re pretty much off the table until the vote is over.”

Patrick McGlinchey, a broker with Trevey, a commercial development group that is not associated with any of the downtown properties, said he finds the citizen committee “deeply troubling.”

“Unfortunately, if these properties are rezoned to open space, it will crush these hopes as the lack of storefront at PACE Lot 2 will cut off commercial viability for the parcels farther to the east,” McGlinchey said. “And the lack of a downtown anchor at Pine Curve will see no remaining parcel of a significant size for such a town center.”

Terry Dodd, a retired real estate broker and member of Save PACE Parking and Pine Curve 3.0, maintains that the majority of the town supports the group’s push to rezone Pine Curve and PACE Lot 2 to open space. Many supporters, he said, live in the east of Parker Road. Now, according to Dodd, more and more support is being found from the west end of Parker Road, and the group is confident about its chances.

The committee also is concerned the town’s plans to develop PACE Lot 2, which includes the parking lot west of the PACE Center, would reduce the amount of parking there. But John Fussa, the town’s community development director, said that isn’t true because future development would be required to preserve the current amount of parking supporting the PACE Center even if reconfigured.  On the other hand, if the property were rezoned to Open Space by Citizen Initiative then some or all of the parking would have to be removed so the property could be used for open space as required by rezoning.

On May 30, the town published a Facebook post disputing some of the claims made by Save PACE Parking and Pine Curve 3.0. In the post, the town states rezoning the PACE Lot 2 property to open space would actually adversely affect the existing parking lot by reducing the amount of parking.

Dodd said he was led to believe differently. According to the listing agreement, the PACE lot can be divided into two, and only includes part of the parking lot, not the entire lot.

“I certainly do not want to (take a) risk that would adversely affect the parking for the PACE Center,” Dodd said.

What lies ahead

Momentum for the petition drive is growing, Dodd said, noting more signatures have been collected so far than the number of respondents to the My Mainstreet survey. The group hopes to have the needed signatures by July 1 to ensure being able to get the question on the November ballot.

The town, meanwhile, is moving ahead with its search for developers for the five properties, which range from $5.50 to $34 a square foot, depending on lot size, according to the town’s website.

“I really don’t feel it is my job to try and persuade people into what is best for the Town,” Waid said in an email. “However, it is my job to make sure truthful, accurate information is made available to them so they can form their own decisions.”

Gregory acknowledges the constant battle to balance what the public wants with what the town needs, particularly for developers who want to make sure their investment pays off.

“One, we want public support,” he said, “and two, we want a project we know will fill.”

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