Centennial ups residential cap for I-25 corridor developments

Jones District will see less retail than expected, study says

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Two areas in the business-dense corridor along the west side of Interstate 25 will see their allowed space for residential units more than double after Centennial updated its land use rules.

“Centennial has one shot at creating an identity along I-25,” said Jenny Houlne, a principal planner for the city, at its Aug. 5 city council meeting. She told council there has been little to no development in areas with “urban center” zoning since that category was created. A city's zoning sets rules for what can be built where.

The urban center zoning includes just two areas: the businesses that sit roughly along South Yosemite Street between East Arapahoe Road and Briarwood Boulevard, and The Jones District. That's a 42-acre — mostly vacant — swath of land on East Mineral Avenue in Centennial just north of IKEA.

The Jones District is a historic site that sits in the area of the now-closed Jones International University, considered to be the first regionally accredited university to exist fully online. It's also one of the most watched developments in the city, promising towering office buildings and hotel, residential and retail space near an existing RTD light rail station.

Aside from its existing 306 units at The Glenn apartments, The Jones District's developers have said they want to add about 1,500 more residential units.

That rough total isn't going to increase based on the city's rule change, though. With the raised residential cap, The Jones District could not exceed roughly 1,500 units, said Allison Wittern, city spokesperson.

Retail shift

The new rules passed at the Aug. 5 council meeting remove a requirement for ground-floor retail, a change that reshapes, in part, what The Jones District is expected to offer. A study conducted by a retail consultant found that a lack of retail visibility from I-25, lack of frontage along East County Line or Dry Creek roads, and a location without “direct accessibility” create challenges for the chances of “a significant amount of retail” at the development, according to a city staff report.

“There will be viability for some retail but (not as much) due to proximity of Park Meadows and Centennial Promenade,” Houlne told the council, adding that hotel lobbies, restaurants or retail uses could fill the ground floor in urban centers under the new rules.

The city's existing rules limited the total amount of residential space to 20% of the floor area of a development, according to the staff report. Discussions with the development community and research — including from the Urban Land Institute, a network of real-estate industry experts — showed that urban districts should have an average minimum of 40 dwelling units per acre. Based on that, Centennial's new rules raise the cap, or allowable amount, of residential units for a development in urban center areas to 50% of a development's floor area.

The research the city cited provides information on “successful and sustainable” transit-oriented developments, which are designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind.

Fear of 'apartments and empty land' alone

The changes drew concern from the handful of speakers at the Aug. 5 meeting, which included a public hearing on the proposed changes. One west Centennial resident feared The Jones District could end up like Littleton Village, a large mixed-use development along Centennial's border with Littleton near South Broadway.

“At the Littleton Village property, there is little to no commercial,” said Diane RaPue, decrying the increase in the residential cap for urban center areas. “I think we need to say we want the right people to come into our city and develop it.”

Councilmember Carrie Penaloza initially opposed the increase for residential, arguing that development of other uses should progress in tandem with residential construction so the city doesn't “get a bunch of apartments and empty land.”

After a huddle with the city attorney, the council agreed to amend the proposed rules to require that developers include plans that “phase” in residential uses “to coincide with non-residential uses,” said Bob Widner, the attorney. The new rules passed on a 9-0 vote.

The ordinance also allowed for more flexibility in the design of developments and required “cohesive design and a distinctive character” that would set the areas apart from other developments in Centennial. It also increases the variation in building heights that parts of urban centers can have, while maintaining the maximum of 15 stories.

Part of the plan

The ordinance amended Centennial's land development code, which sets zoning districts and design standards for construction. The changes support the implementation of Centennial NEXT, the city's recent comprehensive plan, according to the city staff report. Such plans can affect a city's priorities for economic development, housing, parks and open space, and transportation.

The meeting also discussed the concern that zoning rules for other developments, such as The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall, could be changed to the urban center standards. But such a change would have to be approved by city council, Houlne said. The only area city staff are contemplating as a possible change to an urban center is the Centennial Promenade shopping development at I-25 and County Line Road. Staff would likely not recommend an area outside the I-25 corridor for urban center zoning, Houlne said.

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