Task force could pave way for collaboration

Task force
This tragic fire brought out the worst from some foes of development in Denver.

Task force. Tragedy. Thoughtlessness.

These trio of words resonated with me as antidevelopment rhetoric has reached a fevered pitch in Denver.

A new Landmark Ordinance Task Force meets today for the first time that hopefully will set the stage for more collaborative and civil exchanges between preservationists, property owners and developers.

My initial idea was to kick off the column by saying that Denver seems to have transitioned from being a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) city to a BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) state living in a CAVE (Citizens Against Virtually Everything).

But as the construction inferno that cost at least one worker his life at a construction site unfolded on the internet in real time Wednesday, even I was shocked by the venom of some antidevelopment stalwarts.

Under photos of the fire at the five-story, 84-unit apartment building being developed by Allante Properties of Greenwood Village, I read comments such as “one down,” “bye bye” and hopes that other buildings would “follow suit.”

Task force

This tragic fire in North Capitol Hill brought out the worst of some development foes. Hopefully, a new Landmark Task Force can bring more civility to those with different views on development.

One person even posted a meme of a woman running from a burning building with the caption: “Burn It All Down.”

The Denver Post deleted five comments under its initial story about the fire.

Last year, Darrell Schmidt, managing partner of Allante, told me that the Emerson Place apartments at East 18th Avenue and Emerson Street in North Captiol Hill were going to focus on housing traveling nurses working at nearby hospitals, such as St. Joseph.

It is beyond the pale that some would cheer losing much-needed housing, especially when it was expected to be primarily rented by people dedicated to saving lives.

Perhaps the Landmark task force that meets from 2 to 4 p.m. today in the Webb Municipal building at 201 W. Colfax Ave. will help dampen such vitriol that surfaced in the wake of the fire.

“The task force will set its own scope, but, yes, we do expect that it will focus on ways the designation process can be more collaborative and carry forward the city’s longstanding effort to balance property rights with community interest in the preservation of Denver’s history, architecture and neighborhood character,” according to Alexandra Foster, communications program manager at Denver’s Community Planning and Development department.

Task force

Emerson Place, which burned down in a horrific fire on Wednesday, was going to serve traveling nurses at nearby hospitals.

The task force is composed of an all-star cast.

The task force includes architects, brokers, developers, preservationists, Denver residents, and City Council and city staff members.

Brokers on the task force, whom I’ve dealt with on a number of articles and have always found to be knowledgeable and focused on the pulse of the city,  include Chris Cowan, an apartment land broker with ARA Newmark, and Hayden Hirschfeld, who has done a number of retail and other commercial real estate deals with NAI Shames Makovsky.

“I am a fifth-generation Denver resident and I love Denver,” Hirschfeld told me Thursday afternoon.

“If I can be helpful by serving on the task force, I would love to do it.”

Task force

Commercial real estate broker Hayden Hirschfeld will be one of 18 members of a new Landmark task force.

I asked him if bringing together all of the different perspectives with the task force might be a step toward more civil discussions on development and perhaps slow the kind of callous comments in the wake of the fire.

‘I don’t know. We haven’t even had our first meeting yet. But the way you outlined it sounds wonderful.”

Architects on the task force include Dennis Humphries of Humphries Poli Architects and Adam Harding, a partner at Roth Sheppard Architects. Both are well-respected by peers, clients and preservationists.

Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, will bring her long history of working to save buildings to the task force. While a strong advocate for historic preservation, at the same time Levinsky always seeks and welcomes a “win-win” that protects buildings that make Denver special from the wrecking ball, while understanding that a city is a living, breathing entity that needs to grow to stay healthy.

Marilyn Quinn, a longtime resident of Northwest Denver, also is on the task force.

Quinn has been one of the leading opponents of developments such as an apartment community next to a historic church along Lowell Boulevard near West 32nd Avenue, and other developments in West Highland and Jefferson Park.

task force

Marilynn Quinn opposed the apartment community built next to the former Beth Eden church in West Highland, but she has always been respectful to those who disagree with her. Quinn is one of the 18 people serving on a new Landmark Preservation task force.

I have never heard the soft-spoken Quinn raise her voice at people who are on the other side or resort to name-calling.

Others on the task force include:

  • Will Baker, Denver resident;
  • Mark Bowman, builder and broker;
  • Scott Chomiak, developer at Koelbel Urban Homes;
  • Amy Cole, Denver resident;
  • Stephanie Fernandez, project lead at Galloway & Co.;
  • Kevin Flynn, City Councilman, District 2;
  • Charles Jordy, vice chairman of Landmark Preservation Commission and president of Jordy Construction;
  • Robin Kneich, Councilwoman at-large;
  • Terry Liggins, executive director, Montbello Organizing Committee;
  • Nola Miguel, director of GES Coalition;
  • Jeff Pearson, Denver resident; and
  • Tania Salgado, chair of Lower Downtown Design Review Board and principal of Handprint Architecture.

The Landmark Ordinance was approved by the Denver City Council in 1967 to “foster the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of structures and districts of historical, architectural and/or geographic significance.”

The ordinance was most recently updated in 2012.

According to the website for the Landmark Preservation Commission,  “The task force will consider ways the preservation process could become more collaborative and address conflicts that sometimes emerge from historic district designations and individual landmark designations opposed by property owners, with a focus on balancing property rights with community interest in the preservation of Denver history, architecture and neighborhood character. The task force will set its own scope of work and may also address opportunities for mediation and collaboration in the designation process, methods for documenting support and opposition of historic-district designations, how Denver can reduce the environmental impact of demolitions, and options are available for preserving neighborhood character. “

The task force will meet monthly and the meetings will be open to the public.

If you scratch the surface of just about any deal, there is a story behind it. The Rebchook Real Estate Corner looks at the what and who that make the Colorado commercial real estate industry spin every Tuesday and Thursday online at CREJ.com. The people behind the deals are passionate about what they do, whether they focus on offices, apartments, industrial, retail, land or lending. They also are passionate about their clients. Given the cyclical nature of commercial real estate, those who prosper in it have plenty of stories to tell. I hope to share them with you. 

This column includes news stories, in-depth looks at deals, profiles, Q&As and pieces on the latest trends. Contact John with story tips at JRCHOOK@gmail.com or 303-945-6865.

John Rebchook has been taking the pulse of the Denver-area and Colorado commercial real estate world for almost 35 years. He joined the editorial staff of CREJ in 2011. Prior to that, he was the Real Estate Editor of the Rocky Mountain News from 1983 until it closed in 2009.