Historic CityCenter Englewood may see new development rules

New zoning for major redevelopment of shopping center to be voted on soon

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Englewood’s commercial hub — the area near city hall and Englewood’s Walmart — may look a lot different in the coming years, and city officials are set to take a major step toward approving the new vision in early July.

The city hopes the plan will increase its sales- and property-tax dollars as Englewood continues to need new revenue. The city’s budget supports a wide range of items such as police and fire response, parks and recreation, the library and others.

Although those concerns can seem distant from the question of where Englewood residents shop and dine, the two worlds are intertwined because of how heavily cities like Englewood rely on sales tax to fund their city services.

Englewood’s former Cinderella City mall that once stretched for blocks opened in 1968 amid much media hype and became an economic engine — in 1974, it raked in just over half of Englewood’s total sales tax revenue. It functioned as a community center that still stirs fond memories in Englewood residents today.

But competition from newer malls like Southwest Plaza led to a decline, and after a late-1990s demolition, the site was redeveloped into today’s CityCenter Englewood shopping area, which stretches from Santa Fe Drive to Elati Street between Hampden and Floyd avenues. The Englewood Civic Center — the city hall — is a former Foley’s department store.

In recent years, CityCenter Englewood has been fighting a decline fueled partly by the increasing popularity of online shopping. The shopping center faces long-term vacancies near its plaza and near Harbor Freight Tools.

City staff say Englewood needs a wide-ranging plan to economically boost CityCenter. To enable new development, staff are pushing for changes to the city’s zoning and its Unified Development Code — essentially changing the map of what can be built where, and how new developments are designed.

Englewood’s Planning and Zoning Commission — citizens who make development recommendations to city council — will vote on the proposed changes after a public comment period at its meeting on July 7.

If approved, the changes then face votes by city council, which could make a final decision in September.

What could change

The city hopes to add hotel, office and residential spaces, likely apartments, at CityCenter. Bill Moon, of Tryba Architects, has said he hopes a private developer would add events to CityCenter — the redevelopment plan includes open areas where those could take place.

A “plaza shall be (designed) to accommodate community events and functions such as farmers markets, art shows, holiday events” and so on, according to a June 8 city staff report that lays out the plan.

In general, the area could see much more apartment development, with most of CityCenter and the adjacent shopping areas to the east envisioned as a “multi-unit residential-commercial mix,” according to a June 22 city presentation. Others are labeled “multi-unit residential” alone, and only a few spaces are “commercial mix” only.

Taking cues

Englewood’s plan was inspired by the plan to redevelop downtown Westminster, according to the June 8 report. The City of Westminster is in the process of redeveloping the former Westminster Mall site.

The Englewood plan also borrows heavily from architectural and design standards established in multiple City of Denver “station area” plans, the report says.

Those standards “will ensure a high level of design quality for redevelopment projects within the Englewood (light rail) Station area, will provide a greater level of certainty and predictability for developers, and allow the Englewood Station area to compete with other light rail station areas,” the report says.

Ins and outs

The plan aims to “encourage more housing in and around Downtown (Englewood) and Englewood CityCenter by creating a minimum height and density,” the June 22 city presentation said. “Density” refers to how many housing units are built in a given area.

The maximum for building height is proposed to be 125 feet but may be negotiated higher in some cases, according to the presentation.

The plan would change CityCenter’s zoning to “MU-B-1” — a category used in Englewood’s central business areas for “mixed use,” or a mix of types of properties.

But it would also add another layer of policy called an “overlay district,” intended to facilitate additional “transit-oriented” developments, according to the June 8 report. Transit-oriented is a term for developments designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind.

Overall, the plan would give city staff flexibility to make some decisions without input from the full Planning and Zoning Commission or city council. The plan is intended as a “living document that can largely be amended continuously in an administrative fashion,” the June 22 presentation said.

If the proposed rules get approved and city staffers want to make major changes to them down the road, they would still need an OK from the planning commission and the city council.

“Major amendments must be approved through the traditional Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council public hearings process,” said John Voboril, an Englewood city planning official.

“Amendment types that are not identified as major may be approved administratively by staff, with no public hearing process, which is a similar review process to other zone districts throughout the city,” Voboril added.

See more information on how that would work on pages 7, 14 and 24 here.

More density near light rail

The plan, formally called the Transit Station Area Specific Plan, includes a two-tiered set of development regulations that would control the size and scope of redevelopment projects.

The two sets of rules would correspond roughly to “half mile” and “quarter mile” zones, roughly in a quarter-mile and half-mile radius from the Englewood light rail station platform. The quarter-mile zone, closer to the light rail station, could allow for higher densities and building heights.

The eastern edge of the quarter-mile zone — encompassing CityCenter — would be along Elati Street, and the half-mile zone would extend east to Bannock and Acoma streets.

In that second area, the Englewood Marketplace and Englewood Plaza shopping centers, which sit just east of CityCenter, are also experiencing vacancy issues, according to the city.

“The city has been in contact with the owners of the Englewood Plaza and Englewood Marketplace,” Voboril said. “Both owners have expressed various levels of interest in redevelopment at unknown times in the future.”

Cuts to parking

Use of parking at CityCenter even before the COVID-19 pandemic — other than at “very limited peak times” — was trending down, according to Dan Poremba, Englewood’s chief redevelopment officer.

The opening of the West light rail line provided a large increase in parking spaces for RTD, Voboril said.

“A certain number of light rail patrons shifted away from the Southwest line to the West line in order to take advantage of the new supply of parking,” Voboril added.

The “huge surplus of parking at CityCenter,” Poremba has said, is another factor that needs to change to make way for redevelopment.

City hall could relocate

The Englewood Civic Center, the city hall, could be replaced with residential space, likely apartments, under the plan. The June 22 presentation suggested the city’s offices might not move far.

“If city functions and offices are relocated, strive to place them in a more central position between CityCenter and Downtown (Englewood), reinforcing the link between the two,” the presentation said.

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