A light rail train pulls into Orchard Station in Greenwood Village.
A year-long battle over a high-profile swath of land in Greenwood Village west of Interstate 25 comes to a head in a special election Tuesday, when voters will decide if more intense development around the Orchard Station light rail stop is appropriate for the city of 15,000.
A “no” vote — no to the idea of amending the city’s comprehensive plan to encourage taller buildings and multifamily housing at the site — would have Greenwood Village bucking the trend of the last decade of embracing transit oriented developments near rail stations.
Councilwoman Freda Miklin, who supports Question 1 on Tuesday’s ballot, said not seizing the chance to build a vibrant community around one of only two rail stops in the city — instead keeping it primarily as an office park — would be a “lost opportunity.”
“It’s a commercial area that has gotten older and is going to be redeveloped,” Miklin said. “If we do nothing, it will just be more offices. The world is changing — we can’t all drive our cars everywhere we want.”
But many residents worry that the Orchard Station Subarea Plan, which the City Council finalized in March before referring it to the ballot for voters to have the final say, is not in keeping with Greenwood Village’s longstanding suburban character. They say the plan would allow for too many apartments and tall office buildings and dramatically increase traffic woes and crime.
“Do we want our community to be a highly dense area like downtown Denver or do we want to maintain the suburban feel here, with parks and open space?” said Jerry Presley, a former councilman who is part of the group Save Our Village. “We’re not against development, but we don’t want it to be overdeveloped.”
Much of the consternation over the Orchard Station plan jelled last summer after Alberta Development Partners submitted — and then quickly withdrew — a master development plan for the site that called for 3.3 million square feet of new construction, including 1,200 apartments.
David Seserman, who opposes amending the comprehensive plan, said Alberta’s vision for the parcel is “very urban.” While the 1970s-era office buildings that currently populate the site may be due for an update, he said high-density residential space hemmed between thousands of square feet of commercial space is not the way to do it.
Orchard Station, he noted, wasn’t designed for transit-oriented development, but rather was built as more of a utilitarian, kiss-and-ride station. It has fewer than 50 parking spaces.
“The current comprehensive plan maintains the suburban nature of the area,” said Seserman, who served on Greenwood Village’s planning and zoning commission for years. “The site is definitely ripe for redevelopment, but it should be the residents’ vision.”
Presley characterized the battle over the Orchard Station Subarea Plan as one marked by a David-and-Goliath element. Campaign finance data from Greenwood Village shows that support for the ballot measure has come exclusively from Alberta, to the tune of $114,444. The committee opposing the measure, by contrast, has received $37,647 from dozens of contributors.
“The Yes campaign has been 100 percent financed by the developer who will hit the jackpot if the voters pass this amendment to our comprehensive plan,” Presley said.
Alberta’s founding principal, Don Provost, said the fundamental goal at the Orchard Station site is to “create a community destination.”
“To create connections between neighborhoods, friends and strangers,” he said. “Mixed-use environments where residents own and respect their neighborhood. Where employees thrive in healthy, sustainable work spaces. Where you enjoy brunch on the rooftop patio with your family and friends.”
Change is healthy. Our vision sets the standard for decades to come for working, living, dining and participating in life.”
Brenda Lush, who moved to Greenwood Village with her family seven years ago and backs Question 1, said the idea that a developer will run roughshod over the city if the measure passes is nonsense. She said Greenwood Village ultimately controls what projects move forward and uses rigorous standards to evaluate development proposals.
Allowing for the possibility that an innovative community can sprout around Orchard Station, Lush said, could bring more tax revenues to the city from shops and restaurants and “offer residents a new gathering area.”
“Lots of the ‘No’ voters are older residents who have been here a long time, who don’t like change, who are concerned about traffic, who feel that Greenwood Village is somehow a protected quiet enclave and that this threatens that somehow,” she said.