Some 60,000 people live in the Gateway-Green Valley Ranch and Montbello neighborhoods in northeast Denver, but if they want to buy anything, most of them drive to Stapleton or Aurora. Hard hit by the foreclosure crisis, Montbello was recently deemed one of the “hottest” suburban housing markets in the country, and prices are rising in what have traditionally been relatively affordable areas. And these neighborhoods also have some of the last real opportunities for “greenfield” development in Denver.
For these reasons and more, Denver chose these neighborhoods for the first area plan to be undertaken as part of the neighborhood planning initiative. This effort seeks to create small area plans that bring city policy in line with what residents want for their own communities; the goal is to create such plans for the entire city in 15 years. The Far Northeast Area Plan process kicks off with a community meeting Thursday night.
“We’re definitely feeling some growing pains already, so it’s important that we’re talking about it now,” said John Foote, chairman of the Green Valley Ranch Citizen’s Advisory Board and a nine-year resident of the area. “We have shortages of grocery stores, stores for clothing and stuff like that. Those need to be addressed at some point.
“As the representative for Green Valley Ranch, I’m looking for better direction, for some cohesiveness,” he continued. “A lot of people who move out here enjoy the small-town feel even though we’re in Denver. There are still stables and farms around. We would like to avoid losing that feel.”
Community Planning and Development analyzed the city’s neighborhoods on the basis of livability, investment, demographics, economy and policy and regulations, and Gateway-Green Valley Ranch and Montbello had some of the highest need for additional planning. Neighborhood plans for the area date back to 1991, when Denver was a different place.
Montbello doesn’t have a grocery store. There’s a King Soopers and a Walmart in Green Valley Ranch, but Foote said other opportunities for shopping are pretty scarce. The populations in these neighborhoods are younger than the city as a whole, but there aren’t enough gathering spaces and recreation opportunities.
Courtland Hyser, Denver’s project manager for the Far Northeast Area Plan, said the plan will look both at the larger area and the individual neighborhoods and include focus areas like key corridors or commercial centers. As a land use planning document, it won’t solve every problem. It can’t change market forces or allocate money. But it can identify community priorities and help make sure city policies support those priorities. For example, if a parcel of land would be a good site for a grocery store, the city can make sure it has the right zoning to reduce barriers.
“This is the beginning of a process,” Hyser said. “Sometimes people want to see what our plan is. They think, ‘Show me what you got.’ We’re here to listen. This is an opportunity for people to get in at the ground floor, and hopefully stay with us for the next couple years.”
The process will take 18 to 24 months.
Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who has lived in Montbello for 20 years and whose district includes Green Valley Ranch, said she is “ecstatic” her neighborhood is going first.
“We have a lot of greenfields, a lot of raw undeveloped land, and this gives the community the opportunity to learn who are the owners, what is the current zoning, start to develop a dialogue,” she said. That way, when development happens, it’s more likely to be “what the community has identified as what they want to see versus getting another fast-food restaurant.”
“This shores up and gives more framework to what happens for the next 20 to 30 years,” she said. “With the economy the way it is, now is ‘go’ time for a lot of developers and property owners, and this gives the community a chance to be at the table.”
In addition to more retail services, Gilmore would like to see more community gathering places and more jobs so people don’t have to commute as far.
“It takes time, and it wears on families,” she said.
Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents portions of Montbello, said this process gives people what they’ve been asking for, a chance to shape policy.
“The beauty of this process is that we’re sitting down with people who have lived in this neighborhood for 20 years and asking them what their vision is,” he said. “Do the policies we currently have align with that vision? … If not, how do we as the city change our policies to make that vision a reality. We are doing what people always ask of us, making sure we include the voices of the community from the beginning. We have a blank canvas in front of people.”
What: Kick-off meeting for the Far Northeast Area Plan
When: 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday
Where: Evie Garrett Dennis E-12 Campus Student Union, 4800 Telluride St.
Food, childcare and Spanish interpretation will be provided.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect the correct district boundaries for council members Stacie Gilmore and Chris Herndon.