Rooftop greenhouses spanning across approximately two acres may become one of several new developments at “The District” in Centennial, a mixed-use district along the Interstate 25 corridor near the Dry Creek Light Rail Station.
During a presentation to Centennial City Council on Oct. 3, multiple council members expressed support for the greenhouses, which would be part of a building encompassing a proposed nine-story hotel, two-story recreation center, ground floor retail and restaurants.
“‘The District’ is planned to be a vibrant, mixed-use community that spans 36 acres and will offer 2.5 million square feet of office space, a 150-room hotel, 1,800 residential units and more than 30,000 square feet of retail,” said Jenna Campbell, a senior planner with the city.
The area was formerly known as “The Jones District,” Campbell said. According to the staff report, it is regulated by the “Jones District Regulating Plan” and the “Urban Center zone district.”
The land has been split into parcels, several of which are under construction or site plan review for future development, according to the staff report.
The proposed building including the hotel, recreation center and ground floor retail is planned for “Parcel 3,” according to the staff report, and the applicant proposed building commercial agriculture greenhouses on the approximately two-acre roof of the building.
According to a letter of intent — sent by Brian Erickson, a principal at Davis Partnership Architects — the greenhouses will be used for growing, processing and packaging leafy lettuce.
The operation would be almost fully automated, Erickson said in the letter. Staff will load the seeds into the hopper, and then an automated growth system will take over.
“Most of them operate on a hydroponic growth system that uses running water instead of soil to nourish the roots of the plants and allows for greater efficiency of space, and also allows for year-round growing,” Campbell said about these types of greenhouses.
Once the lettuce is ready, the automated system cuts, washes and packages the lettuce, Erickson said in the letter. Staff will then load the packaged lettuce onto trucks for delivery, and the lettuce will be sold through grocery retailers in Centennial and surrounding metropolitan areas.
In total, the operation would create 12 to 15 jobs, according to the letter.
City staff found that the greenhouses would best fit under the city’s definition of agriculture use, Campbell said. However, agriculture is currently not a permitted use in the “Urban Center zone district” nor in the “Jones District Regulating Plan,” she said.
“And so, in order to move forward with the proposed greenhouses, we would need to amend the land development code and ‘Jones District Regulating Plan,’” Campbell said.
Staff recommended permitting agriculture as a limited use in the “Urban Center zone district” — a small amendment to the land development code, she said. Limited use standards would be created as part of the amendment, as well, to mitigate potential impacts.
“For limited uses, you’re only allowed to establish that use if you meet certain criteria, like distance from residential, additional lot size — whatever standards you want to write in,” Campbell said.
Following the presentation, council directed staff to prepare an ordinance to amend the land development code to allow rooftop agriculture as a limited use in the “Urban Center zone district.”
Campbell said the ordinance will be presented at a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission and then for a first and second reading before city council tentatively within the next few months.
“I really like the idea of the rooftop garden — greenhouse,” Councilmember Candace Moon said. “I think it is very innovative.”
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What else is being built?
A variety of other developments are under review or under construction in “The District,” according to the staff report.
“For the past several years, there’s been a lot of progress that has been made in ‘The District,’ starting with building out the public infrastructure that includes roads, temporary sidewalk, underground utilities — and that really sets up all those parcels for future development,” Campbell said. “That infrastructure was completed last year in 2021.”
Currently under review are plans for proposed five-story and 12-story office buildings in “Parcel 2,” five-story and eight-story office buildings in the fourth and fifth parcels, 36 single-family attached townhomes in the sixth and seventh parcels, as well as a proposed pedestrian plaza and promenade, featuring a cycle track, in “Parcel 12.”
Development is under construction in the sixth and seventh parcels, with an approved four-to-five-story multi-family residential building and structured parking. “Parcel 8” is approved for a six-story multifamily residential building and is also under construction.
“I’ve heard from several council people that they were under the impression that things would be coming back to us, for site plans and stuff. And that’s not how this works,” Mayor Stephanie Piko said, explaining city council will not be reviewing site plans.
City Manager Matt Sturgeon said a review process was built into the regulating plan for “The District.”
“Basically, council was making a decision when they approved the regulating plan on the zoning. And once that zoning was approved, understanding the form and density and land use-type of this area, it would all be administrative at that point as the developer sold lots and it was developed out,” he said.
“I will say, it’s quite impressive how fast this is coming together,” Piko said.