Denver city officials and neighborhood groups are in a race against private developers to pluck parcels of land for affordable housing along East Colfax ahead of bus rapid transit that will run from downtown Denver to Aurora.
The strip of East Colfax between Monaco Boulevard and Yosemite is particularly bothersome to some leaders and advocacy groups who say the motels, muffler shops and used car dealerships have become unsightly and not conducive — or friendly — to a population most likely to use public transit.
“It’s like no one is looking out for it,” said Monica Martinez, executive director of The Fax Partnership, a nonprofit organization working with the city to identify parcels of land that could be purchased by the city or developers for affordable housing.
Martinez and city officials want to add density to the area — one called “toothless” by Denver City Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman because of the many parking lots and abandoned businesses.
“It’s a street that’s devoted to cars and you know there’s a car wash and more parking lots and auto sales and everything,” Susman said on a recent walking tour around Colfax and Jasmine Street in Denver. “The difference between this area of Colfax and the part where there has been some public investment is quite startling.”
The goals of working on this stretch of the city are two-fold: add density so that when bus rapid transit comes along in the next three to five years there will be plenty of people who will use it. City officials also want to clean up the area’s motels and make the area more conducive for walking, biking and retail stores.
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Studies show transit-oriented development is often done backwards and in a way that helps developers instead of the people who should be served by more mass transit. When city officials announced a new light rail station and a big rehabilitation project near the National Western Complex, developers began scooping up land and projects immediately.
Nearby neighborhoods now are worried they will be displaced by higher rents when everything is in.
“You’ve seen it, around transit comes development, but what we’re trying to pay attention to now is that when that happens, we’re not too late to the table so that it becomes not Colfax anymore,” said Amy Ford, board chair of The Fax Partnership.
Officials point to Phoenix on the Fax, a low-income apartment building near Poplar Street built by private developers with tax incentives. The building includes some ground-floor retail, including a brewery, and a children’s playground out back.
“That’s the future of what we picture Colfax to be,” Ford said.
But Rick Stephenson, of Stephenson’s Used Cars, said he would likely have to go elsewhere if East Colfax became too gentrified, too densely populated.
Stephenson rents the land for his dealership on the corner of Newport Street. He likes the location because it’s high-profile and everyone knows where Colfax is, though he said he mostly sells cars online nowadays.
“It’s already very expensive for car dealers to be on Colfax,” he said. “The problem with anytime they have a vision, they want to take property from the landowner and make existing businesses have less room.”