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