After two long nights of dialogue between Westminster’s Planning Commission, Oread Capital, and public testimony, the Uplands housing development passed the planning commission unanimously, sending the project to the City Council for final approval.
The vote is advisory, meaning the planning commission is simply recommending action by the City Council based on the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the project’s proposed development plans.
Westminster City Council will have the final say at their meeting on Dec. 13.
Residents had plenty to say about the project at the Nov. 9 and 10 meetings, voicing concerns about water usage, congestion, lack of open space and climate change. Others praised the project as part of the effort to solve issues such as affordable housing and to fuel the local economy.
About 33 people testified in person, most arguing for the project. However, nearly half that number said they did not live in the Westminster area and many came from affordable housing nonprofits in Denver. Some were University of Denver students. Another 25 people recorded voicemails against the proposal and 13 were for it.
Another 148 pages of written testimony were also submitted, which were not read at the public hearing. Many pages included negative responses to the proposal.
Westminster historian Linda Graybeal said the proposed area, which currently stands as a local farm, has always been slated for development.
“Most of this area has always been designated for development, since 1880,” she said.
Zeke Williams, a young professional from Westminster speaking via a voicemail, said he was approached by the Uplands Community Outreach team, to which they discussed the project with him, and talked about positive themes such as equity, affordable housing and economic prosperity
Susan Daggett, the Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute at the University of Denver, had good things to say about the project in her written testimony.
“This semester, I am teaching a seminar on Sustainable Cities and am using the Uplands as a case study to consider the costs and tradeoffs associated with sustainability in the context of new development,” she said.
Daggett said she learned about the project after a reporter asked her to speak on the development. The reporter sent her documents and she began looking through the proposal. After she was quoted in the article, Oread principal Jeff Handlin contacted her and gave her more information about the development. Handlin also serves as an adjunct instructor at the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver.
Developers Oread Capital have been researching the project for five years, although it was made public in the spring of 2019 at their first public meeting.
The planned housing development would sit on 233 acres of land that is currently a community farm. If approved, the project would be separated into five different parcels, according to the Uplands project description.
Parcel A, at over 150 acres, would be enclosed by Federal Boulevard, Lowell Boulevard, West 88 Ave., and West 84 Ave. This area would contain 1,531 units, at least 30,000 square feet of office space, and 21 acres of land dedicated to the City of Westminster to partially contribute to the Public Land Dedication, required by the city in efforts to maintain open space.
Parcel B would be 30 acres and is between Lowell Boulevard and West 84th Avenue. This area would have 82 paired homes and 26 detached homes. 3.28 acres of land in this section would be dedicated to the City of Westminster.
Parcel C, 30 acres, would be south of West 88th Avenue and east of Federal Boulevard. It would contain 617 multi-family dwelling units. 16 of the acres would be a mixture of both commercial and residential designation. 11,000 square feet of office space is proposed along Federal Boulevard, and the eastern 14 acres would be for multi-family units and a 3 acre park, dedicated to the City of Westminster.
Parcel D stands south of West 84th Avenue and east of Federal Boulevard with 22 acres. 19.6 would contain 94 dwelling units in a mix between detached and attached homes. 3.07 acres would be dedicated to the City. 4.24 acres has been proposed to also be dedicated to the city.
Parcel E would be a private park of 1.23 acres.
The project would include 2,350 dwelling units aimed at middle-income renters and first-time buyers. Oread representatives said the project would add 3,200 permanent jobs, $70 million in fees to Westminster and $2.9 million in annual tax revenue, more efficient transportation options including new roads with bike lanes, and the units within the development would use 30 percent less water than the average Westminster home.
City Planning Manager Rita McConnell said that although the development plans to build more affordable housing within Westminster, there is no guarantee.
“The applicant has committed to provide a certain amount of units for affordable housing. We don’t have the fine terms,” McConnell said. “The city does not have a requirement for it, this is what the applicant is committing to.”
However, Daggett, the University of Denver professor, wrote in her testimony that the project would help the situation. Daggett said it will bring about 300 units that are permanently affordable, and increase the supply of houses in the whole region. With many folks moving to the Denver area, housing is not currently matching the economic growth, which drives up wages for the existing apartments and homes, she noted.
“I do think we need to (build more housing),” she said. “Saying `no, we’re not going to grow’ is not an answer to the problem unless we’re willing to say no new jobs, because as long as we’re creating economic opportunity here, we’re going to create a demand for housing,” Daggett wrote.
She noted that the affordable housing within the development’s plans is one of the keys to solving the housing crisis.
“Affordable, subsidized and built-to-be -affordable and subsidized is really important because we have a serious deficit in that direction,” she wrote.
Yet even with an effort to solve the region’s housing crisis, the proposal will bring elements of gentrification to Westminster specifically, and raise some of the current house prices.
“In the immediate vicinity, those housing prices might go up for the existing homes,” she wrote.
As for water, Handlin, the president of Oread Capital, said the development plans to use less water than the city has approved for them.
“The city approved 778-acre-feet of water for this project, they approved it in 2007, reaffirmed the same budget in 2013, and we are using less than that amount,” he said.
Many citizens voiced concern about the city’s lack of water for an emergency stash, but Sarah Borgers, the Water Resources and Quality Manager for Westminster said the reserves are in a good position.
“While the desert West, including Colorado, is experiencing rather substantial droughts right now, Westminster is in a fairly good position,” she said.
However, Karen Ray, a citizen of Westminster, points to the fact that the details of the proposal are insufficient and some businesses may use more water than accounted for.
“A brewery uses more water than an insurance office,” she noted.
Opponents gathered outside Westminster City Hall before the meeting, protesting the development. The folks belong to a group called “Save The Farm,” a grassroots activist group with a goal to keep the farm and the open space that comes along with it. That group began soon after the project was made public in 2019.
“A huge turnout from the neighbors (at the meeting) mostly in the immediate area at that point and out of that, several of us said, ‘this is terrible,’” Ray said.
Her group was well represented, calling out the need for more open space.
“It’s a beautiful spot in Westminster, it’s iconic. (The development) is just not a good fit at all. It has views you just can’t meet, it’s Westminster. It makes me sick to think about the development built there,” said Kristy Wulff, who has owned a house in Westminster for 38 years. “It’s my most favorite spot. It does something to your heart, it’s in my heart. It just makes me sick.”
Instead of housing, she thinks the space can be used more productively.
“We think the city should buy it,” Wulff said. “There’s a working farm there, it can be educational, it could be an events center, it could be a beautiful park. There’s so much better use for it.”
“It’s my favorite spot,” said Jerrie Coyne, a 41-year Westminster “We’ve lived here for 41 years and one of the things that interested us was some wide-open spaces. Now when you go by all these apartments you feel like the world is closing in on you. I hate it.”