Instead of Turning People Away, Suburban Denver Could Surround Rail Stations With Transit-Oriented Development

The Lakewood-Wadsworth RTD station is surrounded by a monolithic parking structure, a gas station, and general low density. Image: Google Maps
The Lakewood-Wadsworth RTD station is surrounded by a monolithic parking structure, a gas station, and general low density. Image: Google Maps

Recent news out of suburban Denver has been decidedly anti-growth. First it was Greenwood Village voters shunning compact, walkable development that would have allowed more people to live near the Orchard RTD station. This week, in a disturbing development in Jefferson County, elected officials nearly turned down $1.7 million in federal funds for affordable housing and sidewalks because of a perceived “war on the suburbs.”

After a six-hour debate Tuesday over whether Jeffco should take money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for sidewalks, up to 500 new housing units, and more affordable homes for low-income residents and people of color, commissioners grudgingly accepted — with caveats, lest the county get too diverse and accepting of new people.

Denverite’s Andrew Kenney reports:

It was the conclusion of a debate that has been brewing for months in the halls of county government. It was, at its simplest, a fight about whether Denver’s large suburban neighbor would break away from a long-running federal effort to make housing more fair and accessible for people with disabilities, racial minorities and others.

The county’s three commissioners ultimately voted unanimously to accept the federal money, with the requirement that the county will reassess the program and potentially try to wean itself off federal support in the years ahead.

A group of conservative activists — the AFFH.net Opposition Group — has sown skepticism of the federal housing program among Denver’s outlying communities, warning of a supposed federal plan to force the creation of “low-income, racially diverse, high-density housing.” That free money isn’t so free, they argue.

Jeffco has seven RTD rail stations, and will have more once the G-Line opens. In terms of ridership, five of them rank in the bottom half when compared to other stations in the system, according to RTD documents. Three of them average fewer than 800 riders per day, including RTD’s worst-performing rail station, Red Rocks Community College, which serves a meager 399 people a day on average.

In other words, these suburban stations aren’t useful to many people. And it’s no mystery why — there aren’t many compact, walkable places around them. Do politicians see sidewalks and more homes as the enemy?

“It makes sense that we’re having a robust debate about growth in Jeffco, but it’s crazy that anyone would want to decline the HUD funding,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, who represents Jefferson County in the General Assembly. “Our local governments depend on these funds to meet the affordable housing needs of their residents. In many parts of Jeffco, these funds have been used to plan smart growth and concentrate more units near transit or commercial areas so that we limit the number of new cars on our roads.”

These localities should be scrambling to create walkable places around transit where people can live and work, which would reduce traffic by making people less car dependent — not trying to cap growth, which, as we’ve seen in Boulder, makes cities prohibitively expensive.

More from Denverite:

Denver’s neighbors know change is coming. Often, they share an instinct to keep things the same. Golden, for example, has developed a culture that wants to stay small, according to Mayor Marjorie Sloan.

The question is whether that’s possible.

“Congestion is increased,” Sloan said, “by having people that live outside the community and drive to work.”

“Turning down the HUD funds wouldn’t stop further development in Jeffco,” Kennedy said. “It would just make all new development unaffordable for the middle class. I am thankful our commissioners recognized this need and voted to accept the funds.”

In the future, if Jeffco doesn’t want nearly $2 million for affordable housing and sidewalks, maybe the feds could send it Denver’s way.

  • Brian Schroder

    We should build a wall around Denver and keep those suburbanites out. They are stealing our jobs and spending all their money back home rather than in Denver. I hear they have drug problems too and don’t believe in the same way of life as us city dwellers. I say build the wall Denver first, Denver first….!!!

    • mckillio

      And make them pay for it!

    • TakeFive

      Haha… priceless

  • TakeFive

    You’re conflating issues a bit but OK.

    With respect to politics which I don’t much care for, It was prolly a bit of an overreach by Obama but nobody’s perfect. DougCo being deep red, is it any surprise what their reaction was? That said Lone Tree will have some of the best TOD anywhere outside of downtown.

    With respect to Wadsworth Station, St. Charles Town Co has already completed the Zephyr Line Apartments which is affordable housing. http://www.businessden.com/2015/04/10/lakewood-low-income-project-takes-shape/

    The W Line ridership has been a big disappointment so far to the surprise of many. TOD in general has been slow to materialize. Most of the well funded national developers that populate downtown are content to stay there. Olde Town Arvada has probably been the most successful in JeffCo and TRC which has been in Denver a long time has a new project pending but it’s not w/o controversy. http://arvadapress.com/stories/olde-town-apartment-plan-sparks-controversy,251094

  • Ryan Keeney

    The reasons for the poor ridership at Red Rocks Community College Station go beyond just a lack of TOD. There are already established neighborhoods, along with the Colorado Mills mall, a stone’s throw away just north of the station. However the station is completely inaccessible from that direction. It is blocked by the 6th avenue highway.

    There is plenty of space to the south to build some TOD though. So much wasted opportunity on both fronts. Why even bother to have a station here if it won’t work at all with the surrounding built environment?

    https://www.google.com/maps/@39.7256111,-105.1528057,377m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • MT

      It’s a bit of a walk from the station to Red Rocks College, but if it were filled in with homes and businesses the walk would be much more inviting than it is now. Currently it’s extremely inhospitable and I can understand why few people do it.

  • WIltonguy45

    Jefferson county voters need to vote out all of the commissioners who voted to again accept this HUD mafia money. They just sold out your property rights to the Feds. Now the Feds can come in and build as many cheap apartment units at they want, thousands upon thousands of them, even where zoning does not currently allow them.

    Golf courses and parks will be taken by eminent domain and the land used to build massive public housing complexes housing thousands of the poorest people. Not just people from Denver but from all over the country. The usual will happen, the Feds won’t fund the upkeep and the complexes will fall into disrepair and become crime ridden. Police will be completely overburdened by the thousands of calls they will have to take from these complexes.

    I urge you to watch the excellent documentary “Spanish Lake”, It is available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. This heartbreaking film shows how HUD and the local government hacks of St. Louis county forced thousands and thousands of Section 8 apartments into the thriving middle class suburb of Spanish Lake MO.

    Within less than 20 years the town became a crime ridden ghetto. All of the original residents fled, losing tens of thousands of dollars in the value of their homes. Entire subdivisions became drug dens and gangs took over the schools, taking them from the top 10% to the worst in MO.

    The local businesses failed or closed down and moved out due to such massive increases in crime which the cities small police force could not handle. This is what HUD does, and you need to wake up and take control of your local government. After this fiscal year do not take one cent of federal money from HUD, or soon you won’t have a safe city to live in.

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