Centennial City Council vote is ahead on SouthGlenn redevelopment plans

Plans first face hearing by city's planning commission

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Nearly three years after plans to redevelop Centennial’s flagship shopping center met the public eye, the city council will decide whether to approve changes to dramatically reshape The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor-commercial and residential complex.

After developers submitted plans to the City of Centennial this June 22, the developers were given a chance to respond to feedback from citizens and the city, and they resubmitted the plans to the city on Oct. 18.

Now, the plans face a vote by the Centennial City Council, which will hold a public hearing on Dec. 6-7, where the public can give comments in person before the council vote.

The Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission, a body of citizens who make development recommendations to city council, will first hold a public hearing scheduled for Nov. 9-10.

Not much changed between the first submittal and the resubmittal in October, but some numbers in a study of the redevelopment’s potential effects on traffic saw some notable revisions.

Area residents in 2019 primarily voiced concerns about the potential for more traffic around the outdoor mall, located at East Arapahoe Road and South University Boulevard, a major intersection in the south metro area. They also objected to the possibility of new apartment buildings across the street from the less-dense neighborhood nearby.

The redevelopment plans have proved to be one of Centennial’s most visible civic issues in recent years. A crowd of more than 100 came to the empty former Sears at SouthGlenn at a March 2019 meeting that introduced the plans to area residents. Roughly 400 people filled the seats at a November 2019 meeting at Powell Middle School in a second community meeting about the plans, an unruly gathering that underscored the continued frustration some residents feel toward the project.

At least some members of community groups have expressed support for the plans, though. The Centennial Council of Neighborhoods — or CenCON, a coalition of homeowners’ associations and similar neighborhood groups — thanked the developers for some compromises.

“CenCON wants to thank and applaud both Northwood (Investors) and Alberta (Development) Partners for the opportunity to sit down (and) address all concerns — not only with CenCON but also with the Southglenn neighborhood group,” CenCON wrote in an Aug. 13 letter to the city. “During our discussions our ideas were seriously considered and the compromise that was reached is one that CenCON can fully support.”

Here’s a look at what could change at SouthGlenn, what the coalition of neighborhoods cited as compromises and what a revised study said about potential traffic impact in the area.

What could change

Developers want to revitalize the mall, which has fought recent vacancies and is facing the expectation that its Macy’s store could close in coming years. The Sears store at the opposite end of the SouthGlenn complex closed near the end of 2018.

Because the developers want to change the mix of types of properties allowed, their plans need the city’s approval.

The Streets at SouthGlenn is one of the top sources of sales-tax revenue for the city compared to other shopping centers, but it hasn’t been performing as well as it used to.

The former Sears property is owned by Northwood Investors, which wants to add apartments there. Alberta Development Partners — which controls nearly all of the rest of SouthGlenn — wants to put in apartments and office space, and retail and entertainment establishments, where Macy’s stands.

The two developers want to make the following changes:

• Increase the allowed number of residential units from 350 units to a total of 1,125 units. Currently, there are 214 residential units in the existing Portola at SouthGlenn apartment building. New units would likely be high-end like at the Portola.

(Previous information before the June plan submittal indicated that developers wanted to increase the allowed number of residential units to a total of 1,273 units. The formal submittal proposed an overall lower number of new units than some earlier versions of the plan.)

• Modify the allowed height on the former Sears land and the Macy’s land from 50 feet to 75 feet. The current allowable building heights in The Streets at SouthGlenn vary across the site. No building is allowed to exceed 100 feet. For context, the current tallest building is the office building north of the existing Sears land at 85 feet, according to the city’s website.

• The core of the Macy’s redevelopment is expected to include three new five-story mixed-use buildings, according to details from the proposal’s traffic study. The Sears redevelopment would consist of a smaller retail building and three new five-story residential buildings.

• Provide an open-space area along the north side of Easter Avenue to serve residential development at the former Sears land. The developer would be required to provide a minimum of 25,000 square feet of public open space, green space, “passive recreation” or common public space to serve that development, according to the city website.

• Decrease the required amount of retail from 909,815 square feet to 621,000 square feet. Currently, there are 948,853 square feet of leasable retail area, including the former Sears and Macy’s buildings, which are approximately 307,000 square feet combined.

• The city’s website shows that the plan would rezone the 1.3-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Easter Avenue and Race Street to accommodate the redevelopment. (Changing zoning means changing what can be built on a particular area.) The property at 2001 E. Easter Ave. is a three-story office-style building, according to plan documents, and the building is expected to be demolished under the plan.

Alberta and Northwood submitted plans to the city on June 22. The application was deemed complete on July 20 before the developers resubmitted the plans in October.

Some compromises cited

Back in 2019 or late 2018, the developers’ original proposal was to have up to 1,600 residential units, according to city staff. Now, the plan envisions 911 new units to get to the proposed new limit of 1,125 units.

CenCON, the coalition of neighborhoods, listed “areas of compromise” in the plan including:

• A tiered, “step-back” in heights with lower heights at the perimeter. The step-back in height approach resulted in fewer units, according to CenCON’s letter.

• Cuts into the building along Easter Avenue “provide little courtyards and space for tenants.”

• A small park bordering Easter Avenue was included.

• Proposed landscaping along Easter Avenue and Race Street will “soften” the buildings as it matures, the letter says.

Some comments the public sent to the city at its at southglenn@centennialco.gov email address asked for the plan to include affordable housing units.

The developers’ Sept. 17 responses to comments, given through a company called Farnsworth Group, made clear that desires for affordable housing likely wouldn’t move forward.

“In most cases, the inclusion of affordable housing at a project like the Streets at SouthGlenn requires subsidies or other government involvement which the applicants are not contemplating at this point,” read the letter from Brad Nelson, an architectural manager.

Traffic numbers shift

The proposal came with a newly revised companion study on the impact the redevelopment would have on traffic — and it lowered some estimates of increased traffic, while other estimates grew.

Along Arapahoe Road, Race Street, University Boulevard and Easter Avenue — which form SouthGlenn’s perimeter — most of the changes in the morning and afternoon would be less than a 10% increase and “do not represent significant changes to traffic flow,” according to the study by Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig, an engineering and planning firm. That version of the study is dated October 2021.

But traffic changes along Race Street would be “significant,” the revised study notes. The increase would range from 37% to 49% depending on the time of day and whether looking at short- or long-term effects.

“This reflects the fact that Race Street has the lowest levels of background (existing) traffic of the surrounding roadways, so volume changes are more pronounced,” the study says.

The version of the traffic study that was revised July 2021 showed much lower numbers for Race Street, ranging from 7% to 10%. Most increases for all roads in that version were estimated at 9%. Compared to that version of the study, the October 2021 revision shows many lower increases for the roads, aside from Race Street.

The version of the traffic study dated November 2019 showed even higher estimates for growth on Race Street, up to 65%. Generally, the November 2019 numbers appeared to be closer to the October 2021 than the July 2021 revision.

Asked what caused the back-and-forth in the numbers, a City of Centennial spokesperson deferred questions to the developers. Donald Provost, founding principal with Alberta Development Partners, also deferred the questions on Nov. 1 and said he would forward them to the traffic engineers. Colorado Community Media did not receive answers as of press time.

The study also notes that the residential communities surrounding The Streets at SouthGlenn have expressed concerns regarding SouthGlenn traffic using neighborhood streets to avoid congestion along adjacent roadways — sometimes referred to as “cut-through” traffic.

“A review of existing traffic counts indicates that less than 5% of the trips from the Streets at Southglenn currently travel between the development and each of the neighborhoods surrounding the project site,” the study says.

The study adds: “We believe that the potential for traffic from the new development to travel through the adjacent neighborhoods to avoid congestion is low.”

The study also says based on other data, less than 3% of trips from the Streets at SouthGlenn are anticipated to travel between the development and each of the neighborhoods surrounding the project site.

“This is a significant reduction when compared to the 7% to the west and 5% to the east considered in (an) October 2005 study,” it says.

That sentence appears to imply that, because the percentage of cars coming from SouthGlenn that travel to surrounding neighborhoods would be lower than the percentage was in 2005, less SouthGlenn traffic overall is expected to go through the neighborhoods.

But overall, the raw number of cars that drive to and from SouthGlenn could be larger in 2021 — and in the future — than it was in 2005. Asked whether the raw number of trips through adjacent neighborhoods after the redevelopment would be larger than the number is now, the city also deferred that question, and Provost also deferred that question to traffic engineers.

The traffic counts conducted for the study represent “AM and PM” peak-hour conditions for a typical commuter day, according to the study. The intersection counts were collected in 15-minute increments during the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Counts along Easter Avenue were taken in December 2018 for an earlier evaluation of the Sears redevelopment. A second set of counts was completed in July 2019. Two supplemental counts were conducted once schools opened in August 2019. Additional “AM peak hour” counts were taken in February 2020, the study says.

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