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May 2015 • Online Edition

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DU Marks 150 Years: Neighbors Chide City For Parking Woes | Print |  E-mail

by Paul Kashmann

For some 130 years, the University of Denver has been the often rambunctious elephant causing concern in many living rooms in the neighborhoods surrounding the hallowed institution’s University Park campus.


THE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER IS A STUNNING CENTERPIECE FOR THE NEIGHBORHOODS surrounding the 125-acre campus. For more than a century the neighbors and the university have worked – sometimes against daunting odds – to co-exist in spite of ongoing challenges.

As DU prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary, a variety of issues continue to create an uneasy tension between the university and its neighbors.

John Evans, former governor of the Colorado Territory, founded the school in 1864 as the Colorado Seminary in a five-classroom building at 14th Ave. and Arapahoe St., on the site of what is now the parking garage for Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The name was changed to University of Denver in 1880, and barely a decade later – anticipating the need for a site that could better accommodate future growth – DU, as it had come to be known, moved to a 125-acre plot of vacant prairie some seven miles southeast. The bulk of land for the new campus was donated by a reformed alcoholic and potato farmer named Rufus Clark, one of the area’s earliest settlers.

To stimulate support for the site, the university bought up additional land – about 400 acres – to promote development of a community that would grow with the school, providing needed housing and businesses to serve residents. The area was platted to allow for more than 2,500 lots which were sold for $300-$1,400 each. In 1887, the Denver Circle Railway began service from downtown to the newly planned community, further facilitating the early University Park land rush.

Since these modest beginnings, the University of Denver has grown into a world-class academic institution serving a population of undergrad and graduate students totaling almost 13,000. The campus itself, buoyed in the past 15 years by a $500-million building boom, has been transformed from a neglected landscape into a diverse and verdant arboretum and greenspace, anchored by dozens of stately brick and stone buildings with tile and copper roofs. If you haven’t strolled the DU campus in recent years, we think you’ll be impressed.

The surrounding community has also survived winds of change in fine form, growing into one of south Denver’s most sought after residential neighborhoods with one of the city’s best preserved tree canopies, an ever-growing commerical presence, and home real estate values exceeding anything the original occupants could ever have imagined.

While the relationship between the university and its neighbors has been one of symbiotic benefit in many instances, the needs of the two entities have suffered some growing pains through the decades. DU continues to fulfill its mission to the best of its ability, making full use of its campus acreage, replacing old antiquated facilities with state-of-the-art new buildings, while the neighbors, without getting walked over or pushed aside in the process, attempt to make room for the students (some good neighbors, some not so much), staff and visitors who live in their midst, or make use of their streets for parking or as transit corridors to classes, athletic contests and other special events.

What are DU’s plans for future growth? “We have 4.5 million square feet under roof right now. It’s not strategic for us to grow dramatically,” said DU spokesman Allan Wilson. “I’m not saying we won’t build any more buildings, but we’ve got the land we need. We don’t have need for more.”

Wilson explained that a recent expansion of the athletic field complex along High St. north of Asbury Ave. was long part of DU’s development plan. “We negotiated with the neighborhood to make High St. a transition area between the university and its neighbors,” he stated. “We recently sold 11 homes we owned on the west side of High St. to a developer who is building market-price row houses, which will be beneficial to the community as that housing stock is shifting from transient rental to more stable for-sale stock.”

Katie Fisher has long been active in DU-related issues as a member of University Neighbors, a group standing watch over the neighborhoods west of University Blvd. to Downing St., from Buchtel Blvd. to the south city limits. “I would say there will always be that tension between the university and the neighbors. I truly believe DU is happy with their size, the campus seems to work. They’ve always stated High St. as a boundary, and I don’t think they have intention of another square inch.”

DU’s relationship with the nearby business community is also one of shared interests and challenges. While having no desire to function as a business owner, the university would like to see the surrounding commercial districts better reflect the school brand. “We want people to know clearly they’re approaching University of Denver,” said Wilson. “The center of campus is gorgeous, and reflects clearly who we are, but our borders are not nearly so well defined.”

DU “recognizes the importance of a thriving business community to the university community,” he emphasized. The school is looking to help in any way it can to stop the revolving door of restaurants at the University Blvd./Evans Ave. intersection. “Businesses come in that don’t really understand that we are basically gone during holiday vacations and during the summer. They don’t account for that,” he stated. “They come in with a strong concept, then to keep seats filled they offer ridiculous lunch specials, then all the beer you can drink after 10p.m., and then there’s new owners. That’s not good for the businesses or for the community.”

Wilson said the university is in talks with the businesses along Evans Ave. and University Blvd. about how a DU/business coalition could work to the benefit of all concerned.

“The folks on Evans Ave. would love some streetscaping. We’d like to see that reflect our colors, our lights, our benches and trash cans and the like.

“Things need to be scaled for pedestrians,” he said. “It needs parking that makes sense. This can’t be Cherry Creek – the context does not accommodate that type of destination district.”

The financial hurdle is one that is not lost on Wilson. “Businesses need to have a bit of an appetite for taxes to make this work. We don’t want to buy businesses, but we do expect to have a financial involvement in whatever form of improvement district evolves.”

Parking has become the hot button issue not only for businesses, but even more so for residents in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Denver. Neighbors have become increasingly frustrated with non-resident traffic clogging their streets, making convenient on-street parking a thing of the past for locals when school is in session.

Mark Rodgers is university architect for DU. “We’ve got visitor parking with meters, paid event parking, and permitted parking,” said Rodgers. “We have surface parking, structures and underground spaces. We have enough spaces according to what the zoning requires, but we may not have the right flavors. We are continually working to get the right spaces in the right places.”

Rodgers explained that the city changed parking requirements as part of the massive rezoning effort several years back. “Previously we were required to provide one space for every 600 square feet of building; they changed that to one space for every 1,000 square feet.

“In 2002 we had 4,202 spaces and the city wanted 5,148; in 2006, we had 5,368 and the city needed 5,540 so we were getting close. Now we’re at 5,390, and the 2010 code only calls for 3,535. Why did the city do this? I think they’re trying to urge people into alternative methods of transit. People will continue to drive if given unlimited parking. We don’t think the city’s wrong, but they may not be as right as they’d like to be. So should we pave over parking and build frisbee fields? I don’t think so. The new guidelines might work for Regis, but maybe not for DU in the middle of a hockey game.

“I know the neighbors would like us to add a couple thousand spaces and make them all free, but we can’t afford to do that.”

Jennifer Schmidt is president of Uni-versity Park Community Council (UPCC), a registered neighborhood organization advocating in the area from I-25 to Yale Ave., University Blvd. to Colorado Blvd. “DU’s parking ratio is okay,” said Schmidt. “It’s more of a city issue. Things have changed in the way they’re approaching things. We’d prefer not having professors park on neighborhood streets, but money is money, and free parking is free parking, and I understand that.

“DU’s trying,” she continued. “They at least put up signs to guide traffic. Evans and University is a failed intersection that pushes cars to side streets. The city has said they’re not going to fix the gridlock – they’ll try to force people to alternative transit. We appreciate DU and the value that they bring to the neighborhood, but the city is rockin’ our world with their lack of concern over parking.”

University Neighbors’ Fisher agrees. “At this time people are feeling pretty good about DU, mainly, but they’re still very concerned about parking. The city says one thing and DU another. DU says ‘we’re in compliance with everything and actually have too much parking.’ The city says that’s true. Everyone agrees we have parking problems. Should some residential areas post and get one- or two-hour restrictions? Is that effective? When those signs go up it just pushes problems a few blocks out.”

In a related matter, DU has raised neighborhood hackles for lending their support to a new apartment project planned for the east side of the 2400 block of S. University Blvd. The university has made a habit of not endorsing private rezonings, but made an exception in this case, supporting more floors than neighbors desire. “We may have strained things with University Park,” said Wilson, who also serves as the neighborhood liaison for DU. “We thought it was a thoughtful development,” he stated. “If the developer can’t get the density he needs, he can’t afford to build underground parking. And there’s already a shortage of convenient parking on the south side of campus right now.”

A local resident requesting anonymity explains, “The area is zoned for three stories, and the developer wants five. DU had a building on the property in question and sold it to the developer. Now they’re backing the higher limit. They say they don’t take a stance on rezonings, but in this case they surely did.”

While the University Park Small Area Plan adopted by city council in 2008 makes general references to moderate development in the area of 3-5 stories, the property in question was zoned for three stories in Denver’s updated zoning code after extensive input from property owners and residents, and much deliberation by the neighborhood and city staff.

UPCC’s Schmidt is aghast at the proposed project. “What are the issues? Parking, traffic and congestion are the issues. The southern part of campus is under more and more pressure from on-campus developments and off-campus as well. They’re building a new engineering school just west of University. Plus, renters don’t become part of the community in the same way as homeowners. We have a strong sense of community that we’d like to maintain.”

As The Profile headed to press, there was no formal application yet submitted for the rezoning.

The university garners higher marks about willingness to help control student impacts on their surroundings. “The town and gown relationship is important,” said Wilson. “We recognize that 18-year-olds rent houses and apartments and do dumb things in the neighborhood. How do we respond? Our code of conduct follows them off campus. That’s a big stick. Their off-campus behavior can jeopardize their status as university students. We also pay for neighborhood patrols at times when we feel more eyes in the area could keep things more calm.”

Schmidt offers kudos to the university, saying, “They definitely respond well to complaints about student conduct.” Fisher dittos that opinion. “People love to live around here,” said Fisher, “and at times we hate to live here. We’ve got the cultural best and sporting events and we’ve got the bar scene and underage drinking and crowds and noise. Most folks are still happy living here, as neighborhoods go it’s still a very stable investment. The police try to work with DU to keep things under control, and DU tries to work things out with us.”

Wilson is optimistic for the future of DU’s campus/neighborhood relationship. “Most of the heavy lifting has been done. We’ve got an open dialogue with the neighbors and the major part of the building boom that started in the ‘90s is behind us. Now, we’ve just got to keep our eye on our students, and keep working to find better ways to move traffic and park cars.”

For details on events planned to honor the 150th anniversary of University of Denver, visit du.edu. Reach University Park Community Council at upcc.us; University Neighbors at universityneighbors.org.

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