Narrow win for Uplands

Westminster Council approves amendments for proposed Pillar of Fire development

Scott Taylor
staylor@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/17/20

A controversial Shaw Heights development proposal won a narrow victory this week as Westminster City Councilors approved three land use definition changes. Now developers Oread Capital will continue …

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Narrow win for Uplands

Westminster Council approves amendments for proposed Pillar of Fire development

Posted

A controversial Shaw Heights development proposal won a narrow victory this week as Westminster City Councilors approved three land use definition changes.

Now developers Oread Capital will continue working on their plan to build 2,350 dwelling units on 235 acres surrounding Westminster’s iconic castle, the Pillar of Fire church.

Mayor Herb Atchison noted that the council’s Feb. 11 decision is not their only chance to review the project.

“This has been huge process for an application that is only at step one, and we have a number of steps left, regardless of what happens tonight,” Atchison said. “What has been committed to verbally by the applicant, we have checkpoints along the way on each one of to make sure what they have told us all publicly at the Planning Commission and here tonight are being lived up to. Any one of those points, if you are not living up to them you are probably going to lose, just to be very frank.”

In all, 42 people spoke at the public hearings — 14 in favor of the development and 28 opposed. Councilors said it was difficult decision and that they would be monitoring the proposal as it works its way through the city’s development review process.

“But with all that, I can find no reason not to support the motions before us,” Atchison said. “But we still have more to do.”

The developers have an option to purchase 235 acres around Shaw Heights, all owned by the Pillar of Fire Church. The developers hope to build on the farmland between 84th and 88th avenues and Federal and Lowell Boulevards as well as parcels east of Federal and on both sides of Bradburn Drive west of Lowell — all land currently owned by the Pillar of Fire Church.

Oread’s plan calls for converting the large open space surrounding the church into Uplands, a massive mixed-use development, with housing options ranging from single-family homes to apartments and town homes as well as parks and commercial areas.

The project would take several years to complete, ultimately having room for 2,350 dwelling units in a mix of housing types. It would ultimately have to be approved by the City Council.

But last week’s vote — the public hearing was spread over two nights, Feb. 10 and 11, due to the number of neighbors hoping to testify — was limited to changing the comprehensive plan designation for three of the smaller parcels on the project.

The developers wanted to rezone three parcels, including a vacant parcel west of Lowell Boulevard on either side of Bradburn Drive labeled “Parcel B”. The current zoning there allows 3.5 housing units per acre. The zoning request would allow five.

They also hope to change zoning on a vacant parcel east of Federal Boulevard and south of 84th from office to allow up to eight housing units per acre. They would also designate a one-acre parcel at 88th and Zuni to make it open space. It’s currently zoned for office uses.

The latter two — the office to housing proposal and the office to open space — won unanimous support from councilors.

But councilors split when it came to Parcel B — the Bradburn parcels — with Councilors David DeMott, Rich Seymour and Jon Voelz all voting against it.

“I’m voting no on Parcel B specifically,” DeMott said. “I think we have a very talented group of developers who are bringing this project before us — so much so I think they probably will be able to overcome the problems with this parcel and still deliver a quality project to Westminster overall.”

DeMott said he was specifically concerned about how Parcel B’s development would hurt the city.

“I’m concerned about traffic, with that parcel being away from the main arterial roads,” DeMott said. “And I just don’t see it fitting in with those surrounding areas.”

Even councilors Anita Seitz, Kathryn Skulley and Lindsey Smith, who voted in favor of the proposal, said they would be watching the project’s next steps.

“I am going to support this amendment based off of the criteria we have. But it is very shaky,” Seitz said, “I am very concerned that this just meets the criteria of a comp plan change.”

Seitz said she will be looking at the overall project to determine what kind of impacts the overall development will have on Westminster.

“I am going to be looking this very closely because my goal is to serve this community now and in the future,” Seitz said. “I have concerns about the sustainability of something like this, that will have such great impact on us.”

Skulley said she is concerned about how the project will effect the city’s water supply and the area’s character.

“We are banking a lot on what we are being told is correct and that the estimates are actually correct and we will be able to make it,” Skulley said.

Mayor Herb Atchison broke the 3-3 tie, allowing the developers to change the zoning if the development is ultimately approved.

Planning Director Rita McConnel said the city is expecting developers to submit a new Preliminary Development Plan in the next few weeks. That will spell out the details of the project more specifically and will be reviewed by the city planning department staff, voted on by the Westminster Planner Commission and ultimately approved or denied by the City Council.

Two nights

With more than 70 residents registered with the City Clerk to give their opinions on the project, the meeting was destined to be a long one.

Mayor Atchison cautioned that the City Council’s protocol is to stop the Monday night meeting at 10:30 p.m., postponing any remaining discussion and the City Council’s decision back 24 hours to Tuesday night. Councilors later voted to extend the meeting until 11:30 p.m.

That changed at 10 p.m., however, when Westminster’s police and public works staff told the mayor that road conditions were getting bad due to the snowstorm. Councilors quickly agreed, adjourning the meeting after hearing from City staff, the applicant and 14 residents.

Of the 14 that spoke Monday, 11 spoke in favor and three opposed the development. That included area business owners and school officials. Westminster Public School Superintendent Pamela Swanson said the project would provide needed students to the schools in the area.

“We have five schools within close proximity of the development and will be able to absorb the projected increase in enrollment with out issue. That has been a big question for us,” Swanson said.

“The takeaway I hope I leave you with this evening is that if the city decides in favor of the Uplands development, we are ready and we believe we are postured to assist in any way and ensure a positive outcome for our residents and present and future students.”

When the meeting continued on Tuesday, another 28 people spoke, with the vast majority of 25 speakers arguing against the project. Resident Karen Kalavity noted that the city’s comprehensive plan was adopted in 2013. The seven-year-old plan might not be the best reflection on Westminster’s current state.

“A lot of people in 2013 were eager to get out of a recession and have a lot of building occur,” she said. “Now, it’s 2020 and a lot of people would rather see less construction, and a lot less building.”

She said she lost her Denver home to the recession in 2020 but would not want to go back.

“It’s so overcrowded, and there is breathing room in Westminster. That’s one of the best things about Westminster,” she said. “I would hate to see an iconic space like that farm become a high-density development. It is a special place.”

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