The former Sears property at SouthGlenn is owned by Northwood Investors, which wants to add apartments there.
Alberta Development Partners — which controls nearly all of the rest of SouthGlenn — wants to put in apartments and office space, and retail and entertainment establishments, where Macy’s stands.
The two developers had asked the city for approval to make the following changes:
• Increase the allowed number of residential units from 350 units to a total of 1,125 units. Currently, there are 214 residential units at the existing Portola at SouthGlenn apartment building.
• Modify the allowed height on the former Sears land and the Macy’s land from 50 feet to 75 feet. The current allowable building heights in The Streets at SouthGlenn vary across the site. No building is allowed to exceed 100 feet. For context, the current tallest building is the office building north of the existing Sears land at 85 feet, according to the city’s website.
• The core of the Macy’s redevelopment is expected to include three new five-story mixed-use buildings, according to details from the proposal’s traffic study. The Sears redevelopment could consist of a smaller retail building and three new five-story residential buildings.
(The term “mixed use” generally refers to areas where a combination of residential and commercial spaces — or different commercial spaces together, such as office and retail — are located on the same development.)
• Provide an open-space area along the north side of Easter Avenue to serve residential development at the former Sears land. The developer would be required to provide a minimum of 25,000 square feet of public open space, green space, “passive recreation” or common public space to serve that development, according to the city website.
• Decrease the required amount of retail from 909,815 square feet to 621,000 square feet. Currently, there are 948,853 square feet of leasable retail area, including the former Sears and Macy’s buildings, which are approximately 307,000 square feet combined.
• The city’s website shows that the plan would rezone the 1.3-acre property at the northeast corner of Easter Avenue and Race Street to accommodate the redevelopment. The property at 2001 E. Easter Ave. is a three-story office-style building, according to plan documents, and the building is expected to be demolished under the plan.
The property developers — Northwood and Alberta — needed the city’s approval to make certain changes at The Streets at SouthGlenn.
The City of Centennial approved a “master development plan” for The Streets at SouthGlenn in 2006 that deviates from normal zoning. “Zoning” is a city’s rules for what can be built where.
In making the decision on the current SouthGlenn proposal, city councilmembers couldn’t approve or reject the redevelopment plan just because they generally like or oppose it. The council’s decision was tied to certain criteria.
• Generally, the city’s planning and zoning commission, and city council, must base the redevelopment decision on whether they feel it will benefit the public and whether it “will not materially and adversely affect existing development on adjacent properties, or measures will be taken to substantially buffer or otherwise substantially mitigate any incompatibility or adverse impacts,” according to the city website.
• The proposal must be consistent with the mixed-use concept of SouthGlenn’s master development plan and must not conflict with the requirements of the “master development agreement” or financial obligations regarding the project.
The city entered into the 2006 master development agreement with the developer to establish the process by which SouthGlenn was redeveloped, and the MDA is tied to the master development plan.
• The proposal also must be consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, Centennial NEXT, which sets goals for future development and land use in the city.
The proposal to redevelop The Streets at SouthGlenn came with a companion study on the impact the redevelopment would have on traffic at intersections around the outdoor mall — including on major streets such as Arapahoe Road and University Boulevard.
During public meetings in November and December about the now-approved redevelopment plan — which would replace the former Sears and Macy’s buildings with apartments and new businesses — several area residents raised complaints about how accurate they felt the traffic study was.
Perhaps the biggest concern among them: the idea that traffic related to the former Sears land at SouthGlenn was improperly processed, throwing off the estimate of how much traffic would be added by the redevelopment.
The proposed redevelopment as a whole is expected to generate about 6,100 new vehicle trips per day, according to the study.
The traffic study appears to reach that conclusion partly by subtracting roughly 3,100 daily vehicle trips based on the idea that the redevelopment will remove the existing Sears building, according to page 27 of the study.
But because Sears closed near the end of 2018, the traffic study’s counts of existing traffic — which were used to help estimate what future traffic after the redevelopment would look like — appear to have partly, if not mostly, already accounted for the loss of Sears-driven traffic at SouthGlenn.
The number of vehicle trips that the traffic study assumes would be removed by the demolishing of Sears was estimated using traffic generation rates from the Trip Generation Manual from the Institute of Transportation Engineers from 2017. That’s a manual that provides standard estimates of car trips based on a destination business’ square footage. Using rates from that manual, the traffic study also estimates that the new development on the Sears land would add roughly 6,700 daily trips.
In other words, the traffic study assumes that demolishing the vacant Sears would remove nearly half as much traffic as the upcoming new residential and retail buildings could add — 3,100 trips removed compared to 6,700 trips added.
The Centennial Citizen asked officials with the redevelopment project — from Alberta Development Partners, Northwood Investors, and engineering firm Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig, which wrote the traffic study — why the study assumed that the demolishing of the vacant Sears would reduce traffic by such a large number.
In a statement, the group responded: “A number of the traffic data collection efforts were conducted when the Sears building was hosting a retail tenant. Since the most conservative numbers from the multiple traffic counts taken were used in our analysis, the baseline data does not assume that the building is empty.”
Sears traffic impact unclear
Traffic counts along Easter Avenue were taken in December 2018 for an earlier evaluation of the Sears redevelopment plan, according to the study. Those 2018 counts included the intersections at York Street (the “Mall Driveway”), Gaylord Street and Vine Street.
Upon the inclusion of the plan for redevelopment of Macy’s within the project’s scope, counts were taken at the remaining intersections along Race Street, Arapahoe Road and University Boulevard. The second set of counts was completed in July 2019. Two supplemental counts were conducted once schools opened in August 2019. Additional “AM peak hour” counts were taken in February 2020, the study says.
The Citizen asked the group whether the December 2018 traffic counts along Easter Avenue were taken before the Sears permanently closed. The Citizen also asked whether the August 2019 traffic counts occurred when Spirit Halloween, or another Halloween-themed retailer, was doing business in the former Sears space. The group did not respond to those questions by press time Dec. 14.
According to Anna Bunce, the City of Centennial’s traffic engineer, analyzing the traffic study isn’t as simple as looking at when the Sears had closed. Traffic calculations follow a certain methodology, according to the city.
Since a change in land use — generally changing from retail to residential — is what was proposed, the original possible use has to be shown as a subtraction, or reduction, and the proposed use has to be shown as an addition, or increase, Bunce said.
“The net (increase) is the result of what the reference standard manual indicates could be anticipated, as a standard projection,” Bunce said.
Other than the “unit quantity” — which appeared to mean amount of space at the property — and other than the fact that the study reflects a change in land use, “nothing about these (data) tables is site specific or meant to represent the actual condition” at SouthGlenn, Bunce added.
The developers’ team didn’t identify when exactly Sears closed. However, it would be unclear how much Sears traffic would have contributed to the traffic counts even if the data had been collected before Sears closed, Bunce said.
“If actual … turning-movement count data collection had been conducted prior to the Sears closing, it is unclear as to how much the Sears would have been actively contributing to the background (existing traffic) condition within what timeframe prior to the store closing, given Sears’ financial picture for some time leading up to the closure,” Bunce said.
She added: “It is also unclear what contribution the Macy’s — or any other specific single use internal to the site — is actually making to any of that data.”
In terms of percentage increases in new traffic, the study says effects of the redevelopment would be mostly small.
Along Arapahoe Road, Race Street, University Boulevard and Easter Avenue — which form SouthGlenn’s perimeter — most of the changes in traffic volume caused by the redevelopment in the morning and afternoon would be less than a 10% increase and “do not represent significant changes to traffic flow,” according to the study.
But traffic changes along Race Street would be “significant,” the study notes. The increase would range from 37% to 49% depending on the time of day and whether looking at short- or long-term effects.
“This reflects the fact that Race Street has the lowest levels of background (existing) traffic of the surrounding roadways, so volume changes are more pronounced,” the study says.
Another measurement, the “level of service” — a qualitative rating of how well intersections function — is also given in the traffic study. Levels of service include A, B, C, D, E and F. Level A represents generally free-flow traffic and minimal delays, and level F indicates congestion and long delays, according to a city presentation.
“We prefer to arrive at a level of service C, but D is acceptable,” Bunce said during a city Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Nov. 9 that discussed the redevelopment plan.
Acceptable levels of service can be maintained at the area’s intersections in accordance with current City of Centennial standards, the study says, with “background improvements” — roadway changes recommended based on existing traffic problems — in place.
The study evaluated existing traffic conditions based on the SouthGlenn area’s current configuration, and “deficiencies were identified at several locations,” the study says. So the study recommends the following “background improvements”:
• The Arapahoe Road and Vine Street intersection operates below the accepted level of service “in the PM” under existing conditions. To improve the level of service, the implementation of “split phasing” signal timing to allow protected left turns from the northbound and southbound approaches on Vine Street is proposed.
• The Arapahoe Road and York Street intersection is currently being modified to a 3/4 movement intersection. With this change, acceptable operations will be achieved, the study says.
• Due to safety and operational concerns, it is recommended that the University Boulevard and Davies Avenue intersection be converted to a “right-in / right-out” intersection. This is expected to reduce the above-average number of approach turn crashes at the intersection and will improve level of service to an acceptable level, according to the study.
The study also evaluated total traffic based on the addition of the trips that would be generated by the proposed redevelopment, and “no additional mitigation needs were identified,” the study says.
Bunce’s understanding is that the developers’ traffic engineering consultant — Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig — also conducted what’s called a “sensitivity analysis.”
The company did that to determine whether “the additionally conservative approach of adding potential Sears-related traffic from the (study’s) trip-generation table back in to the short-term total would change the outcome of the analysis sufficiently to trigger any additional mitigations due to (level of service) impacts,” Bunce said.
“My further understanding is that the answer to the sensitivity analysis is that the overall outcome did not change as a result, and no additional mitigations were identified as required,” Bunce added.
The statement from the developers’ team said: “The key takeaway (is) that each intersection would still function at an acceptable level of service or better per the city-stated goals.”
Bunce added: “I recognize that some of this may seem odd to folks who aren’t in the (traffic engineering) practice, but I do not have any outstanding concerns regarding the (traffic study) and its conformance to and satisfaction of those items required by the city’s Roadway Design and Construction Standards.”
The traffic study and the city’s approval of the SouthGlenn plan might not be the end of the road for evaluating traffic related to SouthGlenn, according to Bunce.
Because city council approved the SouthGlenn redevelopment project, any future site plans — drawings of how a proposed development will look — will be reviewed by city staff as well as referred to the Colorado Department of Transportation, according to Bunce.
“At that time, the submitted information will be subject to CDOT’s access permit review and other applicable criteria, and CDOT and the city will then also be able to further evaluate traffic conditions and determine what, if any, traffic or other mitigation might be appropriate,” Bunce said.
After nearly three years, one of the most prominent and contentious civic issues in Centennial has been decided with the city council’s approval of a plan to dramatically reshape Centennial’s flagship shopping center.
The council voted on Dec. 13 to green-light a redevelopment plan that would, among other changes, increase the number of allowed apartments by several hundred units at The Streets at SouthGlenn.
Property developers pushed the plan in an attempt to breathe more life into the outdoor mall and residential complex, but it met opposition for years from some area residents.
Mayor Stephanie Piko and the other councilmembers on Dec. 7 expressed general support for the redevelopment plan, but in the end, one councilmember objected to the proposal when the final vote was taken.
“I do agree that this will benefit Centennial as a whole,” Councilmember Christine Sweetland said during the Dec. 13 meeting, where she also noted her concerns about the plan’s impact on the residents she serves. She represents a part of west Centennial on the city council.
She added: “I don’t feel this (plan) will provide enough mitigation for the increased traffic in the area, so I will be voting no.” The final vote was 8-1.
MORE: New look at SouthGlenn traffic study
Area residents have largely voiced concerns about the potential for more traffic around the outdoor mall, located at East Arapahoe Road and South University Boulevard, a major intersection in the south metro area.
They also have objected to the possibility of new apartment buildings across the street from the less-densely-developed neighborhood nearby.
Developers want to revitalize the outdoor mall, which has fought recent vacancies and is facing the expectation that its Macy’s store will soon close. The Macy’s lease expires in March 2022, according to Donald Provost, founding principal with Alberta Development Partners, which controls most of The Streets at SouthGlenn.
The Sears store at the opposite end of the SouthGlenn complex closed near the end of 2018.
“The reality is, these once-iconic brands continue to struggle and have to reinvent themselves” due to the “changing consumer behavior we’re all familiar with,” Provost said during a Dec. 6 council meeting about the redevelopment plan.
The city council has heard information about what a city staff report called the “retail revolution” — a series of consumer behavior and technological shifts, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, that are “profoundly affecting the retail industry and every retail center,” a Dec. 6 city staff report said.
“Closed big box retailers, such as grocery stores and department stores, are often the most visible impact,” the report said.
Because the developers want to change the mix of types of properties allowed at SouthGlenn, their plans needed the city’s approval.
The Streets at SouthGlenn is one of the top sources of sales-tax revenue for the city compared to other shopping centers, but it hasn’t been performing as well as it used to. City officials and the developers’ team have pointed to SouthGlenn’s impact on tax revenue in Centennial.
The SouthGlenn site already includes apartments, but “additional residential units will help provide a critical mass of patrons to existing businesses within the neighborhood, creating a more stable tax base from which to derive public services,” an earlier city staff report said.
Piko, the mayor, underscored the fact that a bump in business at SouthGlenn would produce more sales-tax revenue but also that “we need to invest in our schools — we need to invest in our fire district.” Those entities pull funding at least partly from property-tax revenue.
“All of those things will benefit,” Piko said, referring to hopes for an increase in property values that the SouthGlenn redevelopment could cause, as opposed to a potential decrease that could occur if the mall continues down its current path.
Before voting to approve the plan, several city councilmembers pointed to the public’s influence on shaping some parts of what the redevelopment will look like.
“For the citizens, you can look at this project and see that your input made a difference,” Councilmember Mike Sutherland said during the Dec. 13 meeting. “Your input made a difference on the number of residential units that are planned for the entire development. Those numbers decreased dramatically from the first proposal we saw.”
In 2019 or late 2018, the developers’ original proposal was to build 1,600 additional residential units, such as apartments, according to city staff. Now, the plan envisions up to 911 new units to get to the proposed new limit of 1,125 units.
Sutherland felt the “thriving and vibrant” nature of the SouthGlenn area “needs to continue with good commercial development close by that’s not empty storefronts, that’s not decaying.”
“That’s going to cause much more trouble than (some) extra cars and a little more business,” Sutherland added.
The redevelopment plan has proved to be one of Centennial’s most visible civic issues in recent years. A crowd of more than 100 came to the empty former Sears at SouthGlenn at a March 2019 meeting that introduced the plans to area residents.
Roughly 400 people filled the seats at a November 2019 meeting at Powell Middle School in another community meeting about the plans, an unruly gathering that underscored the continued frustration some residents feel toward the project.
In all, Alberta and the other developer — Northwood Investors, which owns the former Sears property — say they held more than 35 meetings with area residents.
That included three large-group meetings, 14 or more individual meetings with residents, and 18 small-group meetings, according to the Dec. 6 city council meeting.
A public-comment forum that was hosted on the city’s “Have Your Say” webpage between July 23 and Aug. 13 saw 372 total comments, and a second public-comment forum between Oct. 28 and Nov. 28 saw 79 total comments, according to a city staff report.
The Centennial Council of Neighborhoods — also called CenCON, a coalition of homeowners’ associations and similar neighborhood groups — thanked the developers for some compromises.
“CenCON wants to thank and applaud both Northwood (Investors) and Alberta (Development) Partners for the opportunity to sit down (and) address all concerns — not only with CenCON but also with the Southglenn neighborhood group,” CenCON wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to the city. “During our discussions our ideas were seriously considered and the compromise that was reached is one that CenCON can fully support.”
CenCON listed “areas of compromise” in the plan including:
• A tiered “step-back” in building heights with lower heights at the perimeter.
(A stepback is a minimum distance that the upper floors of a building must be recessed, or stepped back, from the front of the building. It was referred to as a “a wedding-cake approach” by the developers’ team.) The step-back in height approach resulted in fewer units, according to CenCON’s letter.
• Cuts into the building along Easter Avenue “provide little courtyards and space for tenants.”
• A small park bordering Easter Avenue was included.
• Proposed landscaping along Easter Avenue and Race Street will “soften” the buildings as it matures, the letter says.
Some comments the public sent to the city at its at email@example.com email address asked for the plan to include affordable housing units.
The developers’ Sept. 17 responses to comments, given through a company called Farnsworth Group, made clear that desires for affordable housing likely wouldn’t move forward.
“In most cases, the inclusion of affordable housing at a project like the Streets at SouthGlenn requires subsidies or other government involvement which the applicants are not contemplating at this point,” read the letter from Brad Nelson, an architectural manager.
Out of the existing housing at SouthGlenn, 12 of the 214 units are former retail storefronts that were converted to townhomes. The remaining 202 units are within the Portola at SouthGlenn apartment building.
Rental prices for the new housing in the redevelopment will be determined when the units “come online,” Provost said, and likely, they will be higher than the current rents in the Portola, he added.
A one-bedroom unit at the Portola currently costs a monthly rent starting at $1,824 to $2,424 depending on the type of unit, according to the Portola’s website.
For Alberta’s part of the planned redevelopment, the company is exploring both for-rent and for-sale housing, according to Provost.
“It remains to be seen whether we execute for-sale product,” Provost said during a Nov. 9 meeting of the city Planning and Zoning Commission. “But we are looking at it, and we’re exploring at-grade townhomes as well as stacked flats, stacked apartments, similar to Portola.”
Echoing concerns expressed by other area residents in recent years, Sue Carlton-Smith, who said she lives in the nearby Cherry Knolls neighborhood, voiced fears about added traffic during a December meeting.
“The traffic now is nuts going through Cherry Knolls,” Carlton-Smith said during the Dec. 6 council meeting. She added: “The least you could do is reduce the speed limit in our neighborhood to 20 miles per hour.”
At the end of a two-night meeting that saw comments from the public — and arguments by the developers in favor of the plan — the city council had been expected to vote on the plan Dec. 7, but it decided to postpone its vote after Piko, the mayor, suggested that city staff prepare a summary of the council’s “shared thoughts” on the matter to be presented to the public.
During the Dec. 7 part of the two-night meeting, city councilmembers generally supported the idea that the project meets the criteria on which the city must base its approval decision.
Carolynne White, land-use counsel with the developers, wanted to focus the discussion on comparing what was already allowed to be built at SouthGlenn as opposed to what developers had proposed. Without any rule changes, the developers could have built 2 million square feet of commercial or office space and up to a limit of 350 residential units, White has noted.
“If they were to build that out to the max entitled today, (it) would generate significantly more traffic than the proposal” the city was considering, White said during the November meeting this year.
She added: “It really cannot be disputed that the impact will be less with the (proposal) compared to what could be developed today.”
But during the early December proceedings in front of the city council, White acknowledged that it wouldn’t be practical for the developers to carry out a redevelopment of mostly commercial space rather than residential space.
“What I said was that it could legally happen, not that it will happen,” White said. She added: “I think it’s fair to say, as Don (Provost) just alluded to, that if the market wanted to backfill these boxes (Sears and Macy’s), with these two developers working diligently as they have over the last several years to do so, it would have happened by now, and we wouldn’t be asking (the city) for these approvals.
“Do I think that there’s a high likelihood that we would be able to get anywhere close to 2 million square feet or even just backfill those two boxes, absent this change? No, or else we wouldn’t be here,” White said.
In the December city council meetings on SouthGlenn, one other area of compromise that saw much attention was the northbound left turn from South University Boulevard to Commons Avenue into SouthGlenn, providing direct access to Whole Foods Market and other businesses facing University.
In response to concerns about congestion at that intersection in particular, the development team was willing to “commit voluntarily” to help implement whichever solution the city sees fit, according to White.
Sutherland, a councilmember, during the Dec. 7 meeting said: “I deeply appreciate the additional consideration of the (developers) in working with the city staff to work on the traffic problem on University at Commons Avenue, the northbound left turn lane, expanding that to possibly two left turn lanes from northbound University to westbound Commons.”
Even still, some traffic concerns were not addressed in detail during the meetings.
Jane Mataich, a resident who lives in the area, argued during the Dec. 6 meeting that a study of how traffic would look after the redevelopment was incorrect. She argued that traffic related to the former Sears land was improperly processed.
Anna Bunce, the City of Centennial’s traffic engineer, said in a Dec. 13 statement to the Centennial Citizen that she does “not have any outstanding concerns” regarding the traffic study.
For more details about the traffic issues, see the Citizen's new look at the traffic study and see the "traffic numbers" section of our previous story.
See a look at storm drainage issues in the SouthGlenn area here in a sidebar.
This wouldn’t be the first time big changes have come to SouthGlenn. The Streets at SouthGlenn was originally the large, indoor Southglenn Mall built in the 1970s, and the Sears and Macy’s were components of that mall. Southglenn Mall closed in 2005, according to city staff. SouthGlenn’s outdoor shopping center layout replaced the former mall in 2009.
The recently closed Sears building was built in 1974, according to Arapahoe County assessor’s records. The current Macy’s building was constructed in 1981, county records say.
In November this year, the group of citizens who evaluate development proposals in Centennial unanimously recommended that the city council approve the plan to reshape SouthGlenn. Seven members of the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission voted on Nov. 10 in favor of green-lighting the redevelopment plan.
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