Centennial planning board unanimously backs SouthGlenn plan

Commission says city council should OK redevelopment

Ellis Arnold
earnold@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 11/19/21

The group of citizens who evaluate development proposals in Centennial unanimously recommended that the city council approve a plan to dramatically reshape The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall and …

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Centennial planning board unanimously backs SouthGlenn plan

Commission says city council should OK redevelopment

Posted

The group of citizens who evaluate development proposals in Centennial unanimously recommended that the city council approve a plan to dramatically reshape The Streets at SouthGlenn outdoor mall and residential complex.

Seven members of the Centennial Planning and Zoning Commission voted on Nov. 10 in favor of green-lighting a redevelopment plan that would, among other changes, increase the number of allowed apartments by several hundred units.

“We have a housing crisis — I don’t think this is news to anybody,” said Commissioner Jon Roberts, who said he comes from a residential real-estate background. “Prices and affordability have affected our metro area, our city.” He spoke during the Nov. 10 portion of the meeting. It began on Nov. 9.

Based on “market forces,” Roberts said, “what we need today is housing.”

More than a dozen residents spoke during the meeting, with most mentioning fears about increased traffic. The Streets at SouthGlenn — formerly the site of the large, indoor Southglenn Mall built in the 1970s — sits in west Centennial at Arapahoe Road and University Boulevard, a major intersection in the south metro area.

Roger Lane, one of the few speakers who commented in support of the redevelopment plan, argued that there are places in the Front Range and the Denver metro area that have not prepared for people expanding their population.

“And they will come,” whether Centennial is ready or not, Lane argued.

Some comments the public previously sent to the City of Centennial asked for the plan to include affordable housing units.

A city official during the Nov. 9 portion of the meeting explained that the city has no policies in place requiring affordable housing.

The city’s “staff and city council are looking to develop policies related to increasing the supply of affordable (or) attainable housing options in the city,” Kelly Ohaver, a spokesperson for the city, said in a statement to the Centennial Citizen.

“What that looks like has not been determined yet,” Ohaver said. “The tentative timeline for potential policies is late 2022 or early 2023.”

The outdoor mall complex currently includes 214 residential units in the existing Portola at SouthGlenn apartment building. New units would likely be high-end like at the Portola.

Some comments during the meeting objected to the idea that taller buildings would replace the former Sears building and the Macy’s, which is set to close in 2022, according to city staff. A couple comments focused on concerns about changes to “the character of the neighborhood” around SouthGlenn.

The city’s frequently-asked-questions webpage about the SouthGlenn plan notes the possibility that property values could increase in the area.

“The impact on surrounding property values and consequently, property taxes is unknown. New development at nearby outdoor lifestyle centers like The Streets at SouthGlenn often increase buyer demand and consequently property values,” the city website says.

The redevelopment plan now faces a vote by the city council, which will hold a public hearing on Dec. 6-7, where the public can give comments in person before the council vote. The role of the city’s planning and zoning commission was to make a recommendation to city council on whether to approve or deny the plans, but the council must make the decision.

Here’s a look at what could change and what officials at the early November meeting had to say about traffic concerns.

What could change

Developers want to revitalize the mall, which has fought recent vacancies and is facing the expectation that its Macy’s store will soon close. The Sears store at the opposite end of the SouthGlenn complex closed near the end of 2018.

Because the developers want to change the mix of types of properties allowed at SouthGlenn, their plans need the city’s approval.

The Streets at SouthGlenn is one of the top sources of sales-tax revenue for the city compared to other shopping centers, but it hasn’t been performing as well as it used to.

“Additional residential units will help provide a critical mass of patrons to existing businesses within the neighborhood, creating a more stable tax base from which to derive public services,” a city staff report for the early November meeting said.

The meeting was a public hearing, a process where people can voice their opinion before the commission takes a vote.

Traffic comparisons

The redevelopment plans have proved to be one of Centennial’s most visible civic issues in recent years. A crowd of more than 100 came to the empty former Sears at SouthGlenn at a March 2019 meeting that introduced the plans to area residents.

A main reason for the ongoing attention on SouthGlenn has been the potential for more traffic in the area.

One resident of the nearby Glenn Oaks neighborhood expressed concern about traffic congestion spilling onto side streets and blocking the way out for residents.

“I’m just afraid that I’m not going to be able to get out of my only exit,” she said at the meeting.

Carolynne White, land-use counsel with the developers, wanted to focus the discussion on comparing what’s currently allowed to be built at SouthGlenn with what developers proposed. Without any rule changes, the developers could build 2 million square feet of commercial or office space and up to a limit of 350 residential units, White noted.

“If they were to build that out to the max entitled today, (it) would generate significantly more traffic than the proposal” the city is now considering, White said.

She added: “It really cannot be disputed that the impact will be less with the (proposal) compared to what could be developed today.”

But White did not address on Nov. 10 whether it would be practical for the developers to carry out a redevelopment of mostly commercial space rather than residential space from a profit perspective — in other words, whether it’s a realistic option.

“Just as market forces are forcing this change … the forces aren’t there to support the commercial uses that it’s currently set up for,” one of the planning commissioners said during the meeting. “They’re definitely there for the apartments and other living spaces that are needed.”

The proposal came with a companion study on the impact the redevelopment would have on traffic.

Along Arapahoe Road, Race Street, University Boulevard and Easter Avenue — which form SouthGlenn’s perimeter — most of the changes in the morning and afternoon would be less than a 10% increase and “do not represent significant changes to traffic flow,” according to the study by Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig, an engineering and planning firm. That version of the study, which had been revised, is dated October 2021.

But traffic changes along Race Street would be “significant,” the revised study notes. The increase would range from 37% to 49% depending on the time of day and whether looking at short- or long-term effects.

“This reflects the fact that Race Street has the lowest levels of background (existing) traffic of the surrounding roadways, so volume changes are more pronounced,” the study says.

Commissioner Josh Larimer asked the developers’ team how traffic under the proposed redevelopment scenario would compare to traffic at Southglenn Mall in the 1980s, long before internet commerce changed retail trends.

Chris Fasching — with Felsburg, Holt and Ullevig — estimated that if the mall was around 1 million square feet, it would probably generate about 30,000 vehicle trips per day.

Asked how that compares to the total trips generated if the proposed redevelopment were approved, Fasching estimated that traffic under the redevelopment could be in the 30,000 to 35,000 trip-per-day range.

“I think those numbers kind of converge, and they’re not dramatically different,” Fasching added.

Said Larimer: “What I’m getting at is, for historical context, I don’t remember it being a logjam of traffic around there (in the 1980s). It seemed to function properly. But again, it may not be apples to apples.”

Comparisons to traffic decades ago are likely difficult to make due to population growth and development in the surrounding area.

Parking pondered

The meeting also heard concern about whether parking capacity could handle the redevelopment.

Donald Provost, founding principal with Alberta Development Partners, said during the meeting that new parking could include a “wrap” structure, tuck-under garages, or “podiums.”

The developers’ team said the majority of the buildings that are possible on the Sears side of SouthGlenn would be parking structures internal to the buildings, similar to how the Portola apartments are set up.

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