Centennial isn't 20 years old yet, but in a time of changing development in the Denver metro area, the city is looking toward its next two decades with a plan to guide — rather than stop — the …
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Centennial NEXT is a comprehensive plan, engaging the public in outlining a vision for the city between now and 2040. The city’s first plan was adopted in 2004.
You can view the full, completed plan at www.centennialco.gov/centennialnext under "Final Plan."
Comprehensive plans set priorities and standards for development — for example, pushing for creative architecture, enhancing parks or historic areas, or creating public spaces, according to the city. They lay out what kind of development a city wants to encourage in certain areas.
For example, outreach about the plan led to recommending that shopping centers surrounded by neighborhoods should transition to a “healthy mix of retail, office, entertainment and residential uses,” according to the city.
The plan itself is not a change to the city’s laws, but it will likely influence updates in 2019 to the land development code — the rules for what can be built where, in zoning districts.
Friction arose in 2018 between residents and city officials over certain development plans. But once the city sets rules in a land development code, it generally cannot deny development that meets those standards, even if citizens object to it. A temporary ban, or moratorium — such as the one Centennial enacted for hotel uses in March — is a rare step for a city to take.
But citizens, by giving input on the plan and potential code changes, may bridge conflicts between residents and city policy.
The city gave surveys at in-person events and online for input on the comprehensive plan. Since May 2016, it took in about 2,200 surveys, and more than 75,000 people saw content related to Centennial NEXT on social media outlets.
Centennial isn't 20 years old yet, but in a time of changing development in the Denver metro area, the city is looking toward its next two decades with a plan to guide — rather than stop — the winds of change.
Residents have expressed concern about more density coming to the city, as a few comments showed in the more than 2,000 surveys collected for input on the plan.
“No more housing! Traffic out here has become a nightmare,” one comment read. “No no no more shopping, townhomes, condos or houses.”
“Must we 'develop' everything!” another said.
Others echoed those sentiments, and increasing residential density got less support than other development options across surveys for the Centennial NEXT comprehensive plan. The nearly 400-page document, approved by the Centennial City Council unanimously Nov. 5, had been in the works for more than two years and received input from roughly 2,000 citizen responses.
A comprehensive plan can affect a city's priorities for economic development, housing, parks and open space, and transportation.
But development isn't all up to the city government — growth is inevitable unless owners of vacant property decide not to develop their land, said Derek Holcomb, deputy director of community development for Centennial.
“Rather than stopping additional development from occurring, the city is taking proactive steps to guide new development and redevelopment in a sensible and desirable manner,” Holcomb said.
Centennial NEXT sets priorities for everything from underused shopping centers to affordable housing to accessory dwelling units. Here's a look at some main takeaways from the plan.
'Main street' development
Despite the aversion some residents have to density, people showed overwhelming support for “main street” and “mixed-use retail/housing” development concepts, Holcomb said.
Such mixed-use developments generally could have retail on the ground level and housing above, and main-street areas could include similar setups, with office or retail uses, according to the possibilities the plan gathered feedback on.
“Those developments tend to create opportunities for unique and memorable experiences and evoke a strong sense of place for residents,” Holcomb said.
While the plan itself doesn't contemplate a downtown, some residents have mentioned the idea of one in Centennial, which lacks a downtown area like nearby Littleton or Englewood.
“Many residents excitedly requested the city create smaller versions of The Streets at SouthGlenn within walking distance of their homes, creating new opportunities for shopping and entertainment without the need to drive,” Holcomb said.
Types of housing
Apartments and condos with several floors got little support in surveys, but residents showed more support for other kinds of housing aside from the typical single-family unit.
Gerry Cummins is president of CenCON, the Centennial Council of Neighborhoods, made up of homeowners' associations and other neighborhood groups. She said CenCON is concerned about high rises, but it depends on the type.
“I think they would certainly consider something one or two stories, perhaps three in some locations. I don't think we're looking for an eight- or 10-story high rise,” said Cummins, who served on the plan's advisory committee. “We recognize that housing is an issue — affordable housing, all types of housing, senior-citizen housing.”
One of the plan's goals is to permit more uses — types of development — in commercial areas, along with a greater mix of heights and densities in those places. It also aims for a greater mix of densities within residential areas for new development, “while maintaining compatibility with the surrounding area,” it says.
The plan also considers new housing options that could meet market trends and the evolving needs of current and future residents: accessory dwelling units, senior housing, tiny homes, workforce housing and short-term rentals. Workforce housing is affordable to moderate- to middle-income workers in an area and close to their jobs, according to the plan.
ADUs are small structures behind a primary house or in a basement, attic space or above a garage, commonly known as “granny flats” or “carriage houses.” In surveys, 42 percent were “extremely likely” to support ADUs in the city, and another 35 percent were “somewhat likely.”
“Based on the firsthand interactions that our city planners have had with people interested in ADUs, the overwhelming majority of requests relate to housing options for aging family members or adult children that are unable to live independently,” Holcomb said.
Among the plan's other priorities is more residential density in and close to Neighborhood Activity Centers, a term for mixed-use commercial areas with housing, goods and services, and employment opportunities in walking or biking distance of neighborhoods, the plan says. In other commercial areas, shopping and employment opportunities are not integrated with adjacent residential areas, according to the plan.
Residents desire “smaller, better distributed” Neighborhood Activity Centers, as opposed to only large activity centers like The Streets at SouthGlenn, the plan says.
Front and center
Amid concern of aging shopping centers and strip-retail areas, the plan identifies dozens of “opportunity sites” based on potential for development or redevelopment — many of which include shopping centers.
“One of the things that is foremost on everyone's mind is what's going to happen to a lot of the shopping centers in the strip malls as they start to change and businesses go out of business,” Cummins said. “What's going to replace them, are they going to be torn down? Sears (the store in the Streets at SouthGlenn whose closing was announced) might be one example.”
Among the opportunity sites is the Quebec Village Center, at South Quebec Street and East County Line Road. A vacant big-box store in that area, the former U.S. Toy building, was set to be remodeled as an Alfalfa's Market after an up-to-$500,000 sales-tax rebate, paid over a maximum of 10 years, was approved by city council in June.
Centennial's Community Development and Economic Development departments are continually engaged in conversations with property owners of shopping centers that need reinvestment or new tenants, Holcomb said.
“The market naturally dictates when reinvestment occurs, but the city can proactively remove obstacles to reinvestment by streamlining the redevelopment process and also by working with adjacent neighborhoods to solicit feedback on preferred redevelopment alternatives,” Holcomb said.
Aging in place
Centennial's senior population is expected to grow significantly as existing residents age.
The city's largest demographic change in coming years will likely be an increase in its proportion of residents over age 65, the plan says. In 2016, Centennial had about 18,500 residents over age 65, about 17 percent of its population — and by 2030, that number could be about 29,600 if Centennial follows the expected trend for Arapahoe County, the plan says.
With the help of the Centennial Senior Commission, which advises the city on senior issues, Centennial aims to prepare for the future on seniors' issues, the plan says.
“The city is currently investigating issues and programs related to transportation, housing and quality of life for seniors to establish Centennial as a community where residents can comfortably age in place,” the plan says. Aging in place refers generally to seniors being able to live in their homes rather than a health-care environment.
The plan also sets goals and strategies for Centennial's economy; parks, trails and open space; technology, transportation and infrastructure; and public art and culture. View the plan, with clickable navigation links, at centennialco.gov/centennialnext under “Centennial NEXT Final Plan.”
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