It might sound like the ultimate teenage dream of yore: the chance to live across the parking lot from a mall.
But in south Jeffco, that exact thing is coming closer to reality after the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to rezone a portion of Southwest Plaza’s parking lot to allow the construction of a new apartment development.
Developer Akara Partners is behind the proposed project, which will contain up to 285 residential units and be built on a 4.07-acre parcel. That parcel is also currently home to a restaurant structure that has sat vacant since former tenant, The Draft Sports Grill, closed in 2017.
“This is a very unique approach to the creative reuse of real estate,” said developer Dan Hrankowsky.
According to Hrankowsky’s presentation, the project will consist of multiple interconnected buildings with a maximum height of 80 feet, the same height as the mall structure. County Planner Alicia Halberg said the county’s planning and zoning department recommended approval of the rezoning application based on the criteria used to evaluate rezoning applications.
However, she also stated that the proposal did not meet a county recommendation that residential development only occur around the mall as part of mixed-use buildings that also include space for retail businesses. Still, Halberg said county staff considered the project to be adhering to the “spirit” of county recommendations for mixed-use development because it would bring a new use to the mall’s vicinity that would complement existing retail offerings.
“The applicant argues that introducing multifamily will only displace a vacant restaurant and underutilized surface parking and that the use better supports the adjacent mall by bringing more people to the mall property,” she said.
The Jefferson County Planning Commission had also previously voted 6-1 in favor of recommending the rezoning.
The proposal has drawn the ire of neighbors and other critics, who raised concerns about everything from the potential for the project to add to traffic congestion in the area to impacts it would have on views of the mountains to the west.
Chuck Lazzeri, a real estate professional who lives in the Governor’s Ranch neighborhood just west of the mall, was among the residents who said the project will negatively impact their quality of life while benefiting only the developers and the owners of Southwest Plaza.
“Governor’s Ranch is known as family neighborhoods and has become even more so in the last eight to 10 years,” he wrote in written comments to the commissioners. “Density and traffic congestion is recognized as a deterrent in families selecting a neighborhood and home where they will live, grow, and become part of the community.”
Halberg, meanwhile, saidtraffic studies conducted in the area had determined that while there are preexisting traffic issues in the area, the project would not bring additional traffic beyond that created by the restaurant when it had been operating.
She added that staff had determined the project would’nt have a significantly detrimental effect on views given that it would be the same height as the existing mall.
Several residents also expressed concern that the project was being considered in isolation rather than as part of a larger redevelopment of the mall property, as took place with the development of the old Villa Italia Mall into Belmar.
However, Hrankowsky said such a “master-planned” development is unlikely in the near future as the Southwest Plaza site is actually divided into several parcels that have different owners.
In explaining her vote, Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper said she understood the concerns about the lack of a master plan for the Southwest Plaza area and the fact that it would likely be redeveloped over time with a “piecemeal approach.” However, she also said she felt the county has processes in place to ensure the property is developed in a cohesive fashion.
“It seems to me that it is going to be in the best interest of those owners to make sure redevelopment is cohesive,” said Dahlkemper. “The bottom line is that if there is any additional rezoning of this property in the future it will come to the Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners so I feel as if there is accountability and transparency built into really a commitment to cohesive, forward thinking development.”
[Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the developer behind this project and Dan Hrankowsky's position with it.]
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