Thursday, April 13, 2017
Clarke Hall, Regis University, Denver, Colorado
Since the Spring of 2015, though the Building Healthy Corridors pilot program, ULI has worked with stakeholders in a 2.2-mile section of Federal Boulevard to strategize ways to improve the built environment in ways that positively influence public health. Running from I-70 in Denver through Adams County to 72nd Street in Westminster, this corridor has the typical indicators of unhealthy places, including lack of safe facilities for walking and biking, little access to healthy food choices, unsafe road speeds and resulting accidents/fatalities, poor access to jobs and economic opportunity, and poor quality housing for a lower-income community.
Nearly 370,000 people live within five miles of this corridor, but the 12,000 who reside right in the corridor experience higher-than-average rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Numerous studies show a direct correlation between negative health factors and the built environment.
Successful workshops in July 2015 (a local activity run by the Colorado District Council) and January 2016 (through a national working group) brought national and local ULI expert volunteers in to work with local stakeholders. The workshops helped identify core issues as well as potential solutions.
Working with its partners Adams County, The Colorado Health Foundation, City and County of Denver, Regis University, Tri County Health, and City of Westminster, ULI Colorado identified a Developer Forum as a next step to attract health-driven developments into the corridor.
Organized by ULI Colorado, the Developer Forum took place on Thursday, April 13, at Clarke Hall, Regis University. A handpicked audience of 50 experienced the program’s four parts:
Session 1: Bus tour of opportunity sites in the corridor
The first stop was Aria Denver, the 17.5 mixed-income, mixed-income development by Perry Rose and Urban Ventures that includes an urban farm and walking routes for active living. Developer Susan Powers of Urban Ventures explained strategies to plan, finance, design, build and market mixed-income housing. Built so far are the award-winning, low-income Aria Apartments, next to the market-rate Aria Townhomes. Next steps include 28 condos in a co-housing project going into a former convent.
Clear Creek Transit Village was a second stop. This 21-acre site close to the Gold Line 56th and Federal RTD commuter rail station is currently mostly a “greenfield,” but has plans to host nearly 2,000 homes and ample commercial development on a walkable site with access to transit and the Clear Creek Greenway. Lack of water infrastructure and other factors have slowed development on this site.
Westminster Station. Capitalizing on its only RTD rail stop to date, the city and partners have invested $75 million into one of its lowest-income sectors. The 75-acre site next to a 40-acre regional wetlands park features two new affordable housing projects (one to be wrapped around a 600-car parking garage), a festival/event space at the station entrance, and an accessible bike-share station for people of all abilities. Adams County has rezoned land right next to the station as “urban” at 35 homes to the acre. This strategy is designed to increase walkability, transit use, and the supply of market rate/affordable housing.
A short walk from Westminster Station, Kimble Crangle of Gorman USA gave an overview of the under-construction Alto Apartments. Developed in partnership with Adams County Housing Authority, the $28 million project is providing 70 affordable apartments including energy-efficient one, two and three-bedrooms. It is the first phase of 75 acres of redevelopment in the station area.
Session 2: Local planning, development incentives, partnerships
Abel Montoya, Director of Strategic and Long-Range Planning for Adams County, highlighted several county initiatives:
- Clear Creek Valley TOD Plan. New zoning for the areas around Clear Creek Station to include a mixed-use village center, business park, and open space. This area also hosts the future Clear Creek Transit Village.
Making Connections in Southwest Adams County Planning & Implementation. This plan prioritizes more than a dozen mobility initiatives. It includes trail improvements, sidewalks, “complete streets,” affordable housing and more. The plan targets investments into safe routes to school, transit, parks, and medical care. The challenge is that more than 74 miles of roads in this study area have no sidewalk on either side of the street. The county estimates cost to upgrade at $32 million and will start by leveraging partnerships to fund $1 million a year.
- Federal Boulevard needs: The county has identified $23 million worth of needs in this corridor. For example, 59 percent of Federal lacks sidewalks. A needs assessment calls for streetscape redesign, waterline replacement, and floodplain improvements. A $1.5 million study underway will analyze the “walkshed” and need for sidewalk improvements; study the feasibility of adding bus rapid transit (BRT) to Federal; and improve the safety and appeal of intersections for pedestrians.
Erika Hollis, VP and General Counsel of Regis University, summarized Regis’s emerging new master plan.
As the only Jesuit higher-ed institute in the Rocky Mountain region, Regis emphasizes community service and the health-care professions for 11,000 students. The historic campus anchors this part of Federal Boulevard near one of Denver’s highest points, with a stunning view of the Rocky Mountain backdrop.
Campus leaders are addressing such local issues as traffic safety and access to local transit from the campus, as well as issues as broad as food, social, economic and environmental justice for the lower-income neighborhoods surrounding Regis.
For example, in 2014, Regis launched the Cultivate Health program under a $1 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. Through programming and education, Cultivate Health strives to improve public health locally by building places for social connection, physical activity, and improved access to food and health care.
To be completed in 2018, the evolving Master Plan seeks to create a healthier built environment for Regis and its surrounding neighborhoods. Key project components include multi-modal mobility and access and increased campus engagement with the community. In terms of physical design and improvements, Regis seeks to replace the parking-lot landscape that fronts Federal with new buildings that will bring campus life and the community together. The draft plan calls for increased on-campus housing, a new fitness center, health building, arena, and streetscape improvements on Federal.
Westminster’s efforts were presented by Caroline Joy, economic development marketing specialist, City of Westminster. As noted above, Westminster has invested heavily in its only station area. Partners in this effort include Adams County, Colorado Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation District, Urban Drainage and Flood Control, and Denver Regional Council of Governments.
The eight-year project aims to:
- Maximize use of the B Line linking Westminster to Union Station and regional transit via commuter rail
- Create a walkable setting, community gathering places, and active transportation options around the station
- Provide a new gateway to Westminster and North Federal Boulevard
- Improve economic, health opportunities and housing for local residents, 90 percent of whom are low or moderate income, with 30 percent below the poverty line
- Address the shortage of parks/open space in southwest Westminster and Adams County
- Though the new regional park create a place for environmental education with active and nature play
- Link and connect the station area’s hundreds of miles of regional bike trails, coordinated bus lines, and accessible bike share system
Early results are promising. The station’s daily transit use is almost double original predictions; the first redevelopment project (Alto Apartments) is under construction; and an affordable apartment “wrap” of the parking structure in the works.
Ella Stueve, Associate City Planner for Denver, presented the city’s new Federal Boulevard Corridor Plan Opportunities and Implementation Report. In 2016, the city studied 12 miles of Federal Boulevard from the north (overlapping slightly with ULI’s study area) to the southern boundary at Floyd Avenue. The report aims to create a healthier, more vibrant and multi-model Federal. It makes recommendations for rezoning, streetscapes, bus rapid transit, public health and neighborhood context. Critically the report identifies Regis and Aria as catalytic parcels. It recommends that the City “support and coordinate” with the Regis Master Plan and future phases of Aria.
Sheila Lynch, land-use program coordinator for Tri-County Health Department, reported on INVEST Health, a related group of health initiatives for North Federal. Lynch, a member of ULI’s Healthy Corridor Local Working Group, noted that social, economic, environmental factors comprise half of the indicators for health outcomes.
INVEST Health includes a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) for the study corridor that shows residents are exposed to higher-risk factors just because of where they live and its built environment. In particular, the corridor lacks neighborhood-serving retail, safe places for walking, biking and recreation, access to quality affordable housing, and meaningful, inclusive community engagement.
Solutions include targeting economic development to create jobs and provide local goods and services, community organizing to engage citizens in health-related programs and infrastructure improvements, and providing resources such as job training, child care, counseling, and quality affordable housing.
Session 3: Developer Response Panel
Why would developers want to invest in an area like Federal Boulevard? This session gathered a panel of veteran private-sector developers who have taken on the challenge of health-minded developments in areas that may seem unpromising at first take.
The session moderator was Chris Dunn, principal of Dunn + Kiley, and a founding member of ULI Colorado’s Building Healthy Places Workshop series. Dunn is also the creator of Certified Healthy, a wellness certification program for buildings and urban landscapes. He noted that in his lifetime a child’s world to explore and experience physical activity has shrunk from a radius of six miles to only 300 yards.
Susan Powers, president of Urban Ventures LLC, recapped the success of Aria Denver to blend low-income housing for 30 percent of area median income with “market-rate townhomes that sold for $450,000” and an urban farm providing fresh produce for residents. But Powers added that emphasizing health elements of urban development is impossible to quantify in market terms. “You can’t say you got a 10 percent additional margin because of it.”
Chris Parr, a leader behind the Mariposa redevelopment while at Denver Housing Authority, and now senior advisor to Sun Valley Eco District, noted that health initiatives need to be integrated with every phase of planning and design: “If you take a plan and try to add health, it doesn’t stick. If you’re authentic about health, these things will come.”
Doug Elenowitz of Trailbreak Partners discussed plans for his company to build 134 “attainable” (market-rate, but affordable for middle-income) homes in Lakewood at Sheridan Station on the W Line. “Be very intentional when talking to investors,” he advised.
Finally the subject of displacement arose. If the Federal Boulevard study area were successful in attracting new investment, would gentrification and involuntary displacement follow? What would happen to the 12,000 mostly low-income residents in the corridor?
“We talk about displacement as though we should keep everyone where they are, even if it’s a trailer park or a slum,” said Cameron Bertron, senior vice president of Envirofinance Group, master developers of the transformative St. Anthony’s/SLOANs project nearby. SLOANS is replacing an abandoned, 19-acre hospital with walkable streets, mixed-uses, access to transit, and 1,155 homes that will be 20 percent permanently affordable. “Projects like this [SLOANS] show a way to move people into much better quality of housing while keeping them in the same neighborhood.”
Conclusion and next steps:
The Developer Forum succeeded in bringing together public officials, non-profits and developers to highlight new opportunities for healthy development, especially in under-served areas that have experienced disinvestment. The $5,000 in financial support of the Colorado Health Foundation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation allowed ULI Colorado to host the event for free.
More than 90 percent of our hand-picked invitees accepted and attended. These included master developers, homebuilders, affordable housing developers, commercial real estate investors, architects, and engineers.
ULI Colorado will survey attendees to gauge their satisfaction with the program and to see if they plan to follow up on the information they received. A next step is planned with another one contemplated:
On the calendar: April 26, 2017, meeting of the Federal Boulevard Healthy Corridor Working Group. Consisting of stakeholders from Adams County, Denver, Regis and Westminster, this group will meet to finalize plans to create an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA). The IGA will forge agreed-upon principles to improve the Federal Boulevard right-of-way (eg, the state highway) for multi-modal access, safety, beauty, access to parks, trails and open space, and connectivity across Federal. The group will present these principles to the Colorado Department of Transportation in a unified effort to engage CDOT support and funding for improvements.
TBD: A follow-up focus group to the Developer Forum, perhaps consisting of five public officials and five developers to discuss best practices to attract healthy development to the corridor. ULI Colorado plans to use the balance of the CHF/RWJF grant ($2,500) to pay for legal services to produce the IGA document.