Centennial approves updated Jones District plan

Mixed-use development aims to be 'community gathering space' located off I-25, Dry Creek

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One of the most-watched developments in Centennial — and one that's expected to change the skyline in the south Denver metro area — will move forward with a new vision after the city council's recent approval.

The Jones District, a project on East Mineral Avenue just north of IKEA that dates back to 2013, has remained top-of-mind for recent Centennial City Council candidates and city residents alike.

“I know you people think you can't please all the people all the time, but you can't please Willow Creek any of the time,” joked Neil Lipson, to laughs from the audience at the Nov. 18 city council meeting.

Lipson, who often speaks out about city issues, expressed worry about traffic in the Willow Creek neighborhood area near South Yosemite Street that could increase as The Jones District materializes. The project calls for office buildings and hotel, residential and retail spaces — and some buildings could be 15 stories high along Interstate 25.

Despite the heights, which will put the district more in line with developments farther north along I-25, developers tout it as a community amenity with green space and a large plaza.

“We're upping the ante here at The Jones District to do much, much more than anyone else in the marketplace that's competitive in the southeast,” said David Tryba, of Tryba Architects, at the council meeting. He sees those common areas as being a “community gathering space.”

City council approved the updated plan for the project on an 8-0 vote — Councilmember Carrie Penaloza was absent. Here's what could change and where the project currently stands.

Seeking momentum

The Jones District sits in the area of the since-closed Jones International University, which is considered to be the first regionally accredited university to exist fully online. It was founded in 1993, gained accreditation in 1999 and announced its closure in 2015.

The project — a roughly 42-acre, mostly vacant swath of land — has 306 existing residential units at The Glenn apartments. It would be capped at 1,806 residential units, including the existing Glenn project, according to a city staff report. The project is likely 15 to 20 years away from completion, according to Neil Marciniak, Centennial's economic development manager.

A development plan for The Jones District was initially approved by council in 2013, and an update to the plan — which tweaked the requirements to try to meet current trends in the market — occurred in 2015.

“We saw (development) with The Glenn, and then it stopped,” Marciniak said at the Nov. 18 meeting. “Nothing else moved forward — that was not true momentum.”

Towering vision

The updated plan is built to change that. Developers came before council about a year ago to talk about the changes.

There are four amendments: The first increases the total square footage and amount of residential space. It allows a maximum of 4 million square feet, 50% of which can be residential, up from the previous maximum of nearly 2 million square feet and a 20% residential cap.

The second change includes a new pedestrian plaza and more “public space,” which includes green space, and a new “central promenade” along an expanded South Dayton Street. That large, pedestrian-friendly area is part of an effort to “provide this sense of place where we can consolidate activity,” Tryba said.

The plan also aims to concentrate retail uses — restaurants and other services — around both that area and the RTD Dry Creek light rail station, which sits a short walk to the north.

A third amendment adjusts the property's map so that the promenade is a dividing line between the groupings of building types, concentrating taller buildings along I-25.

A fourth change creates north-south pedestrian and bicycle connections on Dayton Street, promoting connections to the promenade and Dry Creek Station.

Closer to the highway, buildings are allowed to range from five to 15 stories, and farther west, they could vary from three to eight stories.

Fitting into bigger picture

The plan needed to align with Centennial NEXT, the city's comprehensive plan — a far-reaching vision for development in the city. It does so by “creating a remarkable place, creating commercial and office space that will support the economy … and integrating recreational opportunities and amenities for the Centennial community,” the city staff report read.

It will also be required to “phase” the development in so that residential buildings are built concurrently with non-residential ones to ensure the city doesn't end up with just housing at the site.

The city sees that requirement as an opportunity to increase housing diversity there, Marciniak said. A small number of the units will be required to be for-sale, rather than only rental space, as the development phases continue. That could include condominiums and townhomes, and the city is also encouraging other residential types such as senior or workforce housing.

The developer is responsible for infrastructure improvements at The Jones District and also is responsible for a certain portion of off-site intersection improvements, the city staff report read.

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