On PointVincent Carroll, editor of the editorial pages, writes his On Point column most weekdays. He is also an author and freelance writer. Reach Vincent Carroll at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.
Carroll: Devoted to density
After my column last week on Denver’s aggressive push for high-density development near the Southmoor rail station, I received several plaintive e-mails similar to the following:
“I live in Lowry,” wrote Gail Bell, “and the Lowry residents along with all of the surrounding East Denver neighborhoods have been fighting against numerous high-density developments for over a year. Why haven’t we been able to get any support from the media or the mayor?”
The second part of her question is easy to answer: They can’t get the support of the mayor because he’s not particularly sympathetic to Denverites who resist higher density. To the contrary. John Hickenlooper supports the so-called smart-growth agenda that promotes higher densities for an array of reasons — especially near transit corridors and arterials. And so does his planning director, Peter Park, a national leader in the movement.
Not that Monaco Boulevard and Quebec Street in East Denver truly qualify as major thoroughfares — but no matter. They’ll do fine for the purposes of the city’s high-density mania.
Concerned residents tell me the original development concept for the Buckley Annex, 72 acres south of First Avenue between Monaco and Quebec, called for buildings as tall as 12 stories. But even after months of push-back and input from nearby neigbhorhoods, the proposed density remains imposing: Buildings several stories high near the edge of the site and up to seven or eight stories in the middle.
No wonder some residents are distressed by the potential impact on streets, views, schools and the general ambiance.
It’s fine if Denver wants to support high density in downtown, Stapleton and other sites where it already exists or will not potentially overwhelm stable, low-density neighborhoods that were chosen by homeowners for precisely those attributes. Dense neighborhoods can obviously be vibrant and appealing. As Park once noted, “Some of the greatest neighborhoods around New York and Chicago were built around transit. We have the opportunity to do that again . . . ” But city officials’ first loyalty should be to the residents of neighborhoods that exist, not to prospective residents whose influx will — and is meant to — transform them.
By the way, the Air Force still owns the Buckley Annex, and the planning process is being coordinated by the Lowry Redevelopment Authority. But there’s no question the Hickenlooper administration supports the authority’s direction.
To appreciate how stacked the process is against dissenters from the neighborhoods, you only have to read “Myth Three” that appears in an Aug. 1 PowerPoint presentation available at the Buckley Annex link (click on “Task Force Meetings” once there) on the Lowry Web site (lowry.org).
“Myth Three: Higher-density development creates more regional traffic congestion and parking problems than low-density development.”
The truth, the document insists, is that “higher-density development generates less traffic than low-density development per unit.”
Notice the curious language: “regional” traffic congestion and parking problems as opposed to “neighborhood” congestion and parking problems. Less traffic “per unit” rather than less traffic, period.
Yes, higher density should result in fewer total vehicle trips in a metro area than would be the case with the same number of housing units in lower density, but higher density almost inevitably generates more traffic in surrounding neighborhoods than lower density on the same space. And the authors of the “myth” must know this or they wouldn’t present it as they did.
As for Gail Bell’s other question, “Why haven’t we been able to get any support from the media?” — well, for what it’s worth, you just have.
In re-reading my column on the Southmoor density plan, I can understand why some readers were confused as to my attitude. On the one hand I chided the mayor and local councilwoman for their naive view of potential traffic and neighborhood impacts, but I also defended the planning process and suggested some degree of high-density housing may be inevitable.
Just to be clear: The city’s plan includes substantially more density than is healthy for the surrounding neighborhoods — and there is still time, the city willing, to scale back the proposal.
Vincent Carroll is editor of the editorial pages. Reach him at carrollv@RockyMountainNews.com.
zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzPosted by jay on October 20, 2007 10:27 PM
does anyone read these columns?Posted by on October 22, 2007 08:06 AM