As the Englewood Schools Board of Education considers a decision to sell empty land it owns to developers seeking to build new high-density housing, some nearby residents are taking the “BANANA” approach, a housing expert said.
The acronym stands for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything, a staple ethos of the NIMBY — Not In My Backyard — movement, according to Tony Hernandez, an affiliate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver who focuses on housing and economic development.
“People want (a neighborhood) to stay exactly the way it is,” Hernandez said.
But with the metro area facing a dire housing shortage, he said new housing options will be essential to providing stability for local communities.
Such tension is felt by a few residents of an Englewood neighborhood who are unhappy about a proposal to build 15 new two-story duplexes for rent at 2323 W. Baker Ave., a 3.2-acre vacant lot at the intersection of Baker Avenue and Zuni Street in the far northwest part of the city.
The bare land is the former site of Englewood’s alternative high school that changed location in 2014, and before that it was the site of long-closed Scenic View Elementary School. The school board is now considering selling the land to California-based developer Arrow Capital LLC, which plans to work with designer Galloway and Company on the development.
“Fifteen duplexes on that amount of property will absolutely destroy this neighborhood,” said Cherrie Brandt, a resident since 1975, during a virtual neighborhood forum on Jan. 6 hosted by representatives from Arrow and Galloway.
Brandt and at least two other residents voiced concerns for nearly an hour about how the new housing might affect the area, citing increased traffic and fear over having renters in their neighborhood.
Those residents took their concerns to an Englewood school board meeting on Jan. 18, where they spoke in opposition to the plan during public comment.
The school board has had at least two closed-door meetings about the sale of the property, according to board president Duane Tucker, with one being a meeting with city staff the morning of Jan. 21. Tucker said the board could not provide comment at this time.
In an interview, Brandt said she was “very, very sad and then the sadness turned into anger,” when she learned of the sale proposal, which has yet to be finalized.
“It’s going to be much more than this neighborhood can ever bear,” she continued, adding that renters “do not have the pride, nor the concern,” and will “do bare minimum at best” to maintain their home.
It’s a sentiment also felt by fellow resident Martha Slinkard, who’s lived in her home for 34 years.
“Renters, they just don’t care,” she said, adding that if housing is to be built, she’d rather see single-family homes over high-density units.
For Slinkard and Brandt, a better use for the site would be a new park where families could recreate. Baker Park, located immediately north of the old school property, is the nearest open space, but at about 1.2 acres in size, they said the park is too small to accommodate the community’s need.
“I’d much rather see the school sell that property to parks and rec and give us a park that’s decent up here,” Brandt said.
The appraised value of the empty land, as listed on the Arapahoe County assessor’s website, was more than $2.1 million as of last year.
Density lowers costs, expert says
The only thing that will help solve Colorado’s housing crisis is more housing, Hernandez said.
“The housing stock (in the Englewood neighborhood) is pretty old. It’s built for smaller families,” Hernandez said. “The reason advocates push for higher-density housing is because it lowers the cost for everyone, the developer and those who want to rent and buy.”
Renters, he said, are becoming more common as Colorado’s population grows and housing stock remains low. He dismissed the idea that renters take less care of a property and pushed back on the narrative that they bring more crime to an area, something both Brandt and Slinkard cited as a fact.
“I don’t think you can characterize a renter or a homeowner as a bad person,” Hernandez said. “It’s not connected to the type of living; it’s connected to the person.”
If anything, having newer residents, especially families, will help the city’s economy and overall community as more people will lead to more spending in the area, Hernandez said.
“Families generate energy, opportunity and more life,” he said. “In order to have a viable community you need a diversity of families.”
And the best way to support homeownership, Hernandez said, is to support renters who need time to get a foothold in the housing market before they can buy.
“Most homeowners start out as renters,” he said. “You can’t buy a house right now; the median price of a house is $500,000 in the metro area.”
Arrow Capital, the site’s developer, said it too sees the need to provide renters with opportunity.
“Every time you can add some units to the inventory it can relieve some pressure (from the housing market),” said Ryan Lantz, an Arrow Capital partner. “Every bit helps.”
Rezoning would allow density change
Lantz said Arrow’s proposal is not unprecedented for the city as the site is already zoned R-2-A, meaning the land can support housing. The Englewood City Council would still need to approve a rezoning to allow for higher-density development.
“I think it won’t just fit into the community but enhance the community aesthetic significantly,” Lantz said.
But while more housing would lower costs, there is still a need to prioritize affordable housing, Hernandez said.
According to Lantz, the units will be market rate but will be geared to the “lower end” of the market, though units will not be income-restricted.
Slinkard, one of the neighbors, said she understands the need for housing but is opposed to high-density and fears that Arrow’s proposal will not fit in with the community.
“Everyone deserves a decent home,” she said. “But housing that’s well done.”
As the school board mulls the sale, angered residents are preparing to take their complaints to the Englewood City Council, which will have to approve the rezoning even if the sale goes through.
“I myself, and I know several others, we’ll continue to fight. We’re not going to give up,” Brandt said.
But Hernandez encouraged residents to keep an open mind to new housing options.
“We try to make it us against them. It is not us against them. It’s all of us together trying to build better neighborhoods,” he said.