Park Hill Grows and Grapples with Colorado Boulevard

The longstanding neighborhood in northeast Denver is seeing a boom in development that spans housing, schools and community services and even an upcoming art trail. While commuter rail is on the way, increasingly thick traffic on Colorado Boulevard remains a big challenge for Park Hill.
When developer Joe DelZotto bought a piece of land at Interstate 70 and Colorado Boulevard in 2003, he knew there were 50,000 cars passing by daily and had heard there was possibly going to be a rail stop somewhere nearby.

DelZotto, president and CEO of Denver's Delwest, felt the property's location was ideally suited for residential development -- a foresight that is now coming to reality.

His vision for Park Hill Village is to build it into one of Denver's premier urban lifestyle communities. He recently completed a 168-unit market-rate apartment community that's 98 percent occupied at rents he hadn't anticipated when he started the project.

He's on track to finish another apartment project in February 2016 that will have 156 units that are affordable to people earning 60 percent of area median income, and he's already got a list of 600 people who are interested in living there. He bought that piece from the Denver-based Urban Land Conservancy (ULC), which has a mission to create and preserve affordable housing near transit.

That rail stop DelZotto heard about will be a reality when the Regional Transportation District opens the University of Colorado A Line, which will operate between Denver Union Station and Denver International Airport beginning in April 2016. Park Hill Village is just two stops from Denver Union Station.

"The area is transforming rapidly," DelZotto says. "Colorado is a mini-thoroughfare for people coming into the city. There are a bunch of new buildings."

Community changeThe Boys & Girls Club's Nancy P. Anschutz Community Center opened in 2013.

ULC also has been active in the Park Hill neighborhood. In 2009, it acquired the former Holly Square Shopping Center in Northeast Park Hill. The organization worked with The Denver Foundation's Strengthening Neighborhoods Program to engage the community in a visioning process to guide the site's redevelopment. The first phase of construction was completed when the Boys & Girls Club's Nancy P. Anschutz Community Center opened in 2013.

A charter elementary school opened this fall in Holly Square, an area long known for its gang activity. About 100 kindergarten and first-grade students attend classes in Roots Elementary School's temporary home at the Hope Center. ULC and Roots plan build a new school in in the square by 2016, allowing it to expand by one grade each year until it reaches fifth grade.

ULC also is leading an effort to connect the Park Hill neighborhood to the A Line through an art-themed trail. 303 ArtWay will feature art commissioned by the community and provide a platform for activities such as parades and group bicycle events. It also will lead people to many of the small businesses in the neighborhood.

The first phase of 303 ArtWay will start at the commuter rail station at 40th and Colorado and will end at Holly Square at 33rd and Holly. The second phase will continue from Holly Square through North Park Hill to South Park Hill. The third phase will include destinations such as the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. 

"You typically don't see trails like this in a working-class neighborhood," says Aaron Miripol, ULC's executive director. "It is providing this connection to the station and the rest of Park Hill."

Growing painsAs people strive to avoid Colorado Boulevard, traffic is moving to Dahlia, Holly and Krameria.

At 3,021 acres, Park Hill is Denver's largest original neighborhoods, with about 66 percent of its land mass devoted to residences. It's also one of its most diverse, both culturally and economically.

The neighborhood's story starts in 1887, when Baron Allois Gullaume Engine von Winckler developed 32 acres in northeast Denver, according to the Denver Public Library. After von Winckler's death in 1898, his property became available to other developers, who started building out Park Hill as a residential neighborhood.

The neighborhood's early development was similar to the "streetcar suburbs" established in other turn-of-the-century cities. By the 1930s, Park Hill had become an automobile suburb. The neighborhood's residential styles range from Victorian to the Arts and Crafts homes of the early 20th Century to modest mid-century homes built for new postwar families.

Though there are pockets of development in Park Hill, it's projects in adjacent communities that are having the biggest impact on the neighborhood.

Consider this:
  • More than 20,000 people live in Stapleton, the 4,100-acre master-planned community on the site of the old airport to the west of Park Hill.
  • There are now 16,000 employees on CU Denver's Anschutz Medical Campus and Fitzsimons Innovation Campus on the 578-acre site of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center -- a number that is projected to grow to 43,000 at full buildout.
  • More than 25,000 people live and work at Lowry, the redevelopment of a former Air Force Base to the south of the neighborhood.
Those projects, all developed within 10 years beginning in 1995, as well as other developments surrounding Park Hill have dumped more traffic onto streets running through the neighborhood than they were built to handle.

"No other city in the country has moved an airport and closed a major Army base and major Air Force base all at the same time," says Dave Felice, chairman of the Greater Park Hill Community board. "It's created massive pockets of intense traffic that can't be accommodated with the existing streets, and Park Hill is right in the middle. I don't know the answer, but I see the impact."

Many of Park Hill's main thoroughfares, which also form its boundaries,  have become so congested that traffic has moved onto more residential streets. As people strive to avoid Colorado Boulevard, East Colfax Avenue and Quebec Street, traffic is moving to Dahlia, Birch, Holly and Krameria streets.

"People are trying to find ways to stay off of Colorado Boulevard, and it increases the north-south traffic in Park Hill," Felice says. "It's not like one neighborhood exists as an island unto itself and people stay in that island."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Margaret Jackson.

Margaret is a veteran Denver real estate reporter and can be contacted here.
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