Greenwood Village Voters: A Walkable Community? Not in Our Backyard!

Part of the carscape around Orchard Station. Photo: David Sachs
Part of the carscape around Orchard Station. Photo: David Sachs

In March, the Greenwood Village City Council decided they’d let voters dictate whether the Orchard RTD light rail station should anchor a walkable neighborhood. In a special election Tuesday, residents shot down the idea of building homes and businesses within walking distance of each other. They would rather continue with their familiar auto-centric sprawl.

The vote centered around a change to the town’s comprehensive plan that would have enabled more compact development near the station, which sits atop I-25. Scaremongering about the town becoming “transient” framed the debate in the months leading up to the vote. (Transience is an interesting complaint, given that hotels are some of the most substantial buildings around the station.)

In an all-time great not-in-my-backyard quote, former Greenwood Village City Council member Jerry Presley said he did not want his city to be like a city, reports the Denver Post’s Joe Rubino:

“I think we won this election for several reasons, and one of which is we have passion. People who were against this, they weren’t doing this for any financial reasons. It’s because we love our city and we don’t want it to be urbanized.”

So Presley’s preferred “city” consists of sprawling parking craters, disconnected streets, and missing sidewalks. There’s no room for more people, according to him, but the hordes of cars funneling into Greenwood Village from I-25 are just fine.

The area in need of dense development is currently a crater of sprawl. Image: City of Greenwood Village
What should be compact, walkable development anchoring a transit station is currently dominated by parking. Image: City of Greenwood Village
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A developer based in Greenwood Village created this rendering as a concept for walkable development. Photo: Alberta Development Partners

Transit stations aren’t just locations where people board a train or bus. They work best when they enable people to make all sorts of trips without driving. Creating those types of travel patterns depends on the development around the station.

Around Denver’s 10th and Osage Station, for instance, housing, shops, restaurants, a park, and community assets like a rec center mix together. You can reach a lot of places on foot, and if you want to head downtown you can just walk to the train and hop on.

That’s not the case in Greenwood Village, where sprawling office parks and parking lots dominate. It’s hard to walk anywhere, and after this vote, that’s how things will stay for the foreseeable future.

That’s bad news for the RTD system as a whole, because it means fewer people will use this transit station. The system won’t have healthy ridership levels if the development patterns near stations continue to undercut transit and abet metro Denver’s car addiction. That’s why transportation planners at RTD want to maximize investments in light rail by surrounding the stations with compact, mixed-use place — even if politicians on the RTD Board of Directors don’t always agree. (RTD Director Doug Tisdale, whose district covers Orchard Station, did not return requests for comment.)

I recently strolled around Orchard Station. It’s the type of place that needs exactly what the voters rejected:

Photo: David Sachs
Want to walk through the parking lot directly next to the station? Don’t even think about it. Photo: David Sachs
People who follow the rules and skirt the parking lot encounter this lovely walking environment. Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs
More parking — the main feature of the area around Orchard Station. Photo: David Sachs
In a wheelchair? Good luck. Photo: David Sachs