It would be an understatement to say that one had been living under a rock the last few years if they weren’t aware of the controversy going on in Highland Square. Yard signs (of which I have spotted fewer over the last year) dot almost every yard as you get closer to the intersection of 32nd Ave and Lowell Blvd. “NO HIGH RISES In West Highland” is prominently displayed in bold white letters on black. Quite intimidating. But is the development by RedPeak Properties worth the fight? Is it going to ruin the historical integrity of the West Highland neighborhood?
For starters, I think it is important to understand where the neighborhood group, No High Rises in West Highland, stands. Their mission states that they are not anti-development, but rather they just want to make sure development will stay in line with the character of the community. Given that the site, and neighborhood for that matter, have changed and adapted countless times over the history of the neighborhood, I don’t see this as a large enough concern to stifle development. What appears to be the real issue at hand, is that residents don’t want more congestion along the streets and their mountain views (which are non-existent from street level) to disappear.
A white paper put out in June 2009 by the National Association of Home Builders suggests that the impact, at least economically, of a multi-family building (or in this case, buildings) will be positive on the surrounding local community. They estimate that per 100 rental units (there will be 147 units for RedPeak’s West Highland development) there will be economic impact in three phases. The sum of the first two phases (Phase 1: Direct and Indirect Impact of Construction Activity; & Phase 2: Induced [Ripple] Effect of Spending the Income and Taxes from Phase I) will lead to $7.9M in local income, $827k in taxes and 122 local jobs. When applied to the West Highland development, those numbers go to $11.6M in local income, $1.2M in taxes and 179 local jobs (I am aware that the report is from 2009 and that these figures are estimates). Phase 3 of the process (Ongoing, Annual Effect that Occurs When New Homes are Occupied) suggests that the development will lead to $2.2M of local income, $395k in taxes and 32 local jobs (or, $3.2M in local income, $580k in taxes and 47 local jobs for the 147 unit West Highland project).
Economic impact aside, is either party “right” in this issue? Do the residents’ have valid arguments about congestion? I believe so (you can read a memo from the City of Denver on the parking/traffic situation in Highland Square as of January 2012, supported by volunteer gathered data, not from a licensed traffic engineer, here). Is the historical integrity and charm of the neighborhood in peril? In this case, no. It is no mistake that RedPeak chose the location that they did to develop. The demand to live in Highland Square is off the charts. What we really have here are resident’s that have been bitten by the NIMBY bug (they say so themselves).
RedPeak has taken a ton of community input into account. They are not building the maximum allowable structure, they have listened to residents’ concerns about retail on Meade Street and they have designed what will be a beautiful apartment building that will fit will into the mix of historical and contemporary buildings in the neighborhood. So, will there be more people around? Yes. Will it be worth it for the neighborhood? Absolutely.