Neigh­bor­hood con­cerns be­ing brushed o≠ in OK of Park Hill restau­rant

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Eric Mau­rer Eric Mau­rer is a Park Hill res­i­dent. He has worked for a decade to drive the adop­tion of clean en­ergy tech­nolo­gies. To learn more, visit­liv­ing­den­

You don’t have to look far in Den­ver to get a glimpse of new con­struc­tion. It is ev­ery­where, and it is trans­form­ing com­mu­ni­ties be­fore our eyes. All of this con­struc­tion cre­ates new jobs and mod­er­ates rent in­creases, but it also comes at a cost.

We are los­ing the di­ver­sity and charm of our fa­vorite com­mu­ni­ties. And our po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions have tipped the scales so far to­ward de­vel­op­ers that it is al­most im­pos­si­ble for a com­mu­nity to pre­serve what it cher­ishes.

I live in Park Hill, just east of City Park, and ad­ja­cent to a one-block re­tail cen­ter on Kear­ney Street at 23rd Av­enue. If you know this block or even this neigh­bor­hood, you might de­scribe it as safe, quaint and charm­ing. It was not al­ways this way. Many of my neigh­bors are per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for Kear­ney Street’s suc­cess. The same neigh­bors who pe­ti­tioned the city to move its air­port also planted our trees and helped re­cruit the right busi­nesses.

Now this thriv­ing block and neigh­bor­hood are un­der siege.

Kevin Set­tles, an Idaho busi­ness­man, wants to bring his Bar­de­nay dis­tillery-restau­rant chain to our block. At first this sounded great. Another walk­a­ble din­ner choice was com­ing to Kear­ney, what could be bet­ter? Then we learned more.

The fa­cil­ity will seat 236 peo­ple. That’s 2.5 times the largest restau­rant on the block. It’s nearly the equiv­a­lent of stuff­ing a Cheese­cake Fac­tory into our res­i­den­tial “Main Street.”

Once neigh­bors con­tem­plated the scale of this op­er­a­tion, the ques­tions started flow­ing. What about park­ing, safety, traf­fic, noise, prop­erty val­ues, ef­fects on other lo­cally owned busi­nesses?

The neigh­bors or­ga­nized to in­flu­ence the liquor li­cense process. They submitted let­ters, signed pe­ti­tions, and even spoke at the hear­ing. Nev­er­the­less, Den­ver’s liquor li­cens­ing board rec­om­mended the li­cense, brush­ing aside neigh­bor con­cerns.

To make mat­ters worse, to date, the board has not re­sponded to e-mails re­lated to im­pro­pri­eties in Set­tles’ process to col­lect sig­na­tures that sup­ported Bar­de­nay’s liquor li­cense ap­pli­ca­tion. The polling firm work­ing for Set­tles is re­quired to stay neu­tral when so­lic­it­ing neigh­bor sig­na­tures. It did not.

The firm knocked on my door, but did not even ask about our rea­sons for not sup­port­ing the li­cense. Yet the firm stated on the record that it had done this. In another in­stance, the firm’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives sought to con­vince a neigh­bor to sign by name-drop­ping oth­ers who had al­ready signed.

Set­tles, for his part, did grant a com­mu­nity meet­ing with neigh­bors. Whether in­ten­tion­ally or not, the meet­ing ac­tu­ally hap­pened af­ter the liquor li­cense had been rec­om­mended. Set­tles seemed open to lis­ten­ing to com­mu­nity ques­tions, but of­fered few com­mit­ments or so­lu­tions to ad­dress them.

Af­ter the meet­ing, a neigh­bor fol­lowed up with Set­tles. Would he sign a “good neigh­bor agree­ment”? This is an agree­ment that is legally bind­ing and stip­u­lates mea­sures the owner must take to stay in good stand­ing. Set­tles’ an­swer: no thanks. This de­spite Bar­de­nay’s web­site pro­claim­ing that its “suc­cess de­pends upon the good­will of the com­mu­ni­ties in which it op­er­ates.”

Out­side of the liquor li­cens­ing process, we are not en­tirely sure why more scru­tiny did not oc­cur dur­ing the zon­ing or per­mit­ting pro­cesses. We can only spec­u­late that these pro­cesses are so rules-based they fail to live up to their own prin­ci­ples and are in­ca­pable of in­cor­po­rat­ing rel­e­vant neigh­bor­hood con­text and feed­back.

In shar­ing this story with you, I do not seek to im­ply that the right an­swer is to throw out Bar­de­nay and pre­clude new de­vel­op­ment. The is­sue is more nu­anced than that.

We seek trans­par­ent and fact-based de­vel­op­ment pro­cesses. Right now, it’s too easy for Set­tles to cast aside com­mu­nity ques­tions and speed through zon­ing, li­cens­ing, per­mit­ting and con­struc­tion. As neigh­bors and cit­i­zens, we de­sire a dif­fer­ent model. We un­der­stand our re­spon­si­bil­ity is to or­ga­nize our­selves, and we ac­cept that. But our po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions must do a bet­ter job to carve out space in the de­vel­op­ment process that rec­og­nizes our voices and ideas.

As for Park Hill and Bar­de­nay, our story hasn’t been writ­ten. We seek to work with Set­tles. And we will never stop fight­ing for our neigh­bor­hood, even when the de­ci­sions of oth­ers pre­de­ter­mine our com­mu­nity’s vi­sion with­out our ba­sic in­put.

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