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Westminster’s city council to determine fate of major development project

Uplands
Posted at 6:05 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 23:58:48-05

WESTMINSTER, Colo. — Westminster’s city council will continue its consideration of a new development project planned for 230 acres of old farmland Wednesday evening.

City council listened to a lengthy presentation Monday about the plans for the empty space near 88th and Lowell. That presentation was followed by hours of public testimony that went late into the night Monday, continued Wednesday evening. The meeting has been continued to Monday.

The development of the former farmland known as Uplands has been in discussion for years. The city’s planning commission unanimously approved the project last month after long discussions. The current proposal is to construct new housing, retail, office spaces and public parks on the land.

“We are providing 2,350 additional homes to the area, 300 of which are permanently affordable, and we’re also providing a number of attainable housing solutions,” said Jeff Handlin, the principal developer, Oread Capital & Development.

Those 300 affordable homes would be deed restricted. Other attainable housing is also part of the current plans for this project.

Handlin has been working with Westminster on this development project for more than four years. He considers it the most complex design he’s ever worked on since there are so many mixed-use aspects that require approval.

The developers say they have hosted more than 200 neighborhood meetings to discuss the project and adjust it to address community concerns.

“We’ve worked diligently for five years to incorporate the things we heard from our neighbors that were deeply important to them," Handlin said. "Please give us a shot."

Part of that includes adding more open space and view corridors, more safety crossings and traffic lights, etc.

Despite this, there are still widespread community efforts to try to block the project. A group called Save the Farm has gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a change.org petition to try to block the development.

Dozens of people signed up to testify on Monday, and many more signed up to speak out against the project during Wednesday’s meeting as well. Hundreds of emails have also been sent to city council opposing the project.

“I would just really personally love to see it remain the way it is,” said Elaine Adair, a member of Save the Farm.

Adair lives about a block and a half north of the farm and says it’s the uninhibited views that make the area so special. On one side of the land, there’s a pristine view of the mountains, while on another, there’s a straight-shot view of downtown Denver.

She doesn’t want the city to do away with this vista for the sake of more housing. She also questions the affordable housing aspect of the project since the average for-sale home value will be $550,000, according to an economic impact analysis by the developer.

Instead, Adair argues that there are plenty of areas within Westminster that could be redeveloped to accommodate more housing.

“In general, we’re not against development as a whole, but it doesn’t really fit the criteria of being harmonious with this specific community,” she said.

She would like to see city council either deny the development proposal or delay their decision on it until they have more of an opportunity to research it and understand all of the nuance.

John Carpenter, the former director of community development who served for 26 years before retiring in 2016, has also spoken out publicly against the project, raising concerns about the amount of public land and open space being provided, among other things.

Handlin disagrees with the public land concerns, contending that the city has the discretion to meet the public land dedication requirement in three ways- all physical land, cash-based on the market value, or a combination of each. Handlin says the city chose a combination of about 40 acres of physical land and cash-in-lieu for the remaining acres.

Adair admits that her side has an uphill battle with this farmland fight since the planning commission already gave its approval. However, she’s hoping the new city council members will consider their side.

“Most of them ran on a large contingent of trying to listen and hear the community," Adair said. "So the community has spoken quite loudly, and we’re hoping that they live up to the promises they made during their campaigns."

Handlin sees things differently. The developer says he has worked hard to collaborate with the community but says the opposition group has refused to sit down with them to discuss or try to collaborate on the proposal.

“It is that sense of not my backyard,” he said. “I empathize with those who live near the site. No one wants development in their neighborhood, but we believe that the city’s and landowner’s interests are best served by doing what is best for the most.”

City council is expected to vote Monday on the framework approval for zoning and the general community look. The developers would still need to go through several neighborhood approval processes before being able to break ground.

If it is approved, the project is still about a year out from breaking ground and 15 to 20 years from being completed.