De­vel­op­ers say cre­ative so­lu­tions are a ne­ces­sity

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Aldo Svaldi The Den­ver Post

Den­ver-area de­vel­op­ers are em­pha­siz­ing smaller, denser and taller as they try to build apart­ments and homes that young adults and first-time buy­ers may not nec­es­sar­ily de­scribe as af­ford­able but at least at­tain­able.

But the de­vel­op­ers are meet­ing re­sis­tance on many fronts and warn that cre­ative so­lu­tions are needed to al­low peo­ple of av­er­age means to own prop­erty so Den­ver doesn’t become a city dom­i­nated by tran­si­tory apart­ment dwellers and the af­flu­ent.

“We are go­ing to be grow­ing out be­cause we can’t grow up,” said Jeff Plous, a Den- ver-area bro­ker and de­vel­oper, speak­ing on an af­ford­able-hous­ing panel at Den­ver De­sign Week, which runs through Fri­day at the Univer­sity of Colorado Den­ver.

Many young adults want to live in the ur­ban core or in older city neigh­bor­hoods, which has slowed sub­ur­ban sprawl. But the ur­ban­iza­tion trend also has raised pres­sures to in­crease den­sity in al­ready-de­vel­oped neigh­bor­hoods, and that is gen­er­at­ing push-back.

“(Mil­len­ni­als) want to live in the city and have a life­style. Func­tion­al­ity mat­ters more to them than size,” Plous said.

That has con­trib­uted to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of mi­cro-apart­ments and the emer­gence of ac­ces­sory dwelling units, or cot­tage homes and apart­ments above garages at the back of ex­ist­ing lots. De­vel­op­ment also is con­cen­trat­ing around tran­sit sta­tions.

In the River North Art Dis­trict, it is man­i­fest­ing as a push to get 16-story build­ings ap­proved near the com­muter-rail stop at 38th and Wal­nut streets, said Jamie Licko, pres­i­dent of the dis­trict.

That height is dou­ble the city re­stric­tion in the area. As a trade­off, de­vel­op­ers will pro­vide four times the num­ber of af­ford­able units the city re­quires and af­ford­able com­mer­cial space, the lat­ter of which is a new con­cept in Den­ver, she said.

A prob­lem go­ing for­ward is that mil­len­ni­als can’t eas­ily raise fam­i­lies in 350- to

600-square-foot mi­croa­part­ments. They need op­tions that al­low them to own within price ranges their in­comes can sup­port, or they will be forced out to the pe­riph­ery or to other more af­ford­able cities.

“I have a heart for Den­ver, but I can’t af­ford to live there,” said a mem­ber of the au­di­ence, a young woman who lamented her re­lo­ca­tion to Broom­field af­ter hous­ing costs be­came too high in Den­ver.

“My big­gest fear is we become a tran­si­tory city,” said Jonathan Alpert, a man­ag­ing part­ner at West­field Co. who also was on the panel, called “De­sign­ing an Af­ford­able Den­ver: Hous­ing So­lu­tions for the 99 Per­cent.”

Plous said he was part of a team that at­tempted to build en­try-level homes in Den­ver’s Sun­ny­side neigh­bor­hood, only to find they couldn’t do it for un­der $500,000.

“Land was ex­pen­sive and the con­struc­tion costs were con­tin­u­ally ris­ing,” he said. Xcel En­ergy also re­quired the project to bury power lines ver­sus ex­tend­ing the ex­ist­ing lines from nearby poles, which added an­other $140,000 in un­ex­pected costs.

The West Line Vil­lage, a com­mu­nity of 175 row homes at West 10th Av­enue and Depew Street in Lakewood, is hav­ing more suc­cess com­ing in at a lower price, Plous said. That project will of­fer homes from $275,000 to the low $400,000s, prices he called “at­tain­able.”

The same trends driv­ing up home prices also are lift­ing the cost of apart­ments, and some of the newer ur­ban projects are charg­ing rents at $3,000 and up for 1,000 square feet, said Nate Jenk­ins, an as­so­ciate with OZ Ar­chi­tec­ture in Den­ver.

Go­ing smaller and pro­vid­ing more com­mon spa­ces of­fer a way to get costs down to a range that ser­vice work­ers and oth­ers can af­ford.

“The size of our for-rent units is chang­ing rad­i­cally,” he said.

OZ de­signed an apart­ment project at East 16th Av­enue and Hum­boldt Street that con­sists of two build­ings of 50 units each crammed onto two long­va­cant lots. The apart­ments av­er­age 350 square feet, with a de­sign that low­ers the height of the bath­room ceil­ing by half, cre­at­ing an ad­di­tional 120square-foot loft that can be used for stor­age or a guest bed.

But the apart­ments come without on­site park­ing, and neigh­bor­hood groups, wor­ried that ten­ants will still own cars and park them on al­ready-crowded streets nearby, have come out in op­po­si­tion. The project’s de­vel­oper agreed to pro­vide 45 park­ing spa­ces in a nearby lot.

The Den­ver City Coun­cil, de­spite mem­bers’ stated sup­port for af­ford­able hous­ing, over­ruled city plan­ning of­fi­cials and voted in May to scale down park­ing ex­emp­tions for small in­fill de­vel­op­ments.

RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

The Coloradan, a 334-unit con­do­minium project, goes up west of Union Sta­tion in Den­ver. Much de­vel­op­ment for young adults and first-time buy­ers seek­ing an ur­ban res­i­dence is con­cen­trat­ing around tran­sit sta­tions.

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