By Mike McKibbin
Avideo showcasing how the Clear Creek Crossing project might look in Wheat Ridge includes an SCL Health sign, signifying the end of a short but controversial conflict between two medical care providers.
Project developers and SCL Health signed a contract for the sale of a 25-acre parcel of the project to the parent company of Lutheran Medical Center, after word spread earlier this year of a potential new hospital or medical care facility operated by UCHealth at the site. That prompted a flurry of emails from Lutheran staff and Wheat Ridge medical care officials to city officials, opposing a rezoning request from the developers, Evergreen Development Co. of Denver.
A large crowd of Lutheran staff and supporters turned out for a Feb. 12 Wheat Ridge City Council hearing, where Evergreen was granted a continuance of the matter to March 26. The company held a community meeting March 22, where the sales contract with SCL Health was announced.
After a lengthy public hearing March 26 – which included the video –council approved the rezoning request of the 109-acre site on the west side of Interstate 70, between approximately 34th Avenue and Clear Creek, from planned commercial development to planned mixed-use development. The change gives Evergreen a broader choice of residential, employment, retail, hotel, restaurant and entertainment uses, including a medical campus.
Lutheran officials have said they will study their options for the site and were conducting due diligence on the property. The contract is expected to close by the end of May, according to Evergreen Executive Vice-President Tyler Carlson.
“This is the largest undeveloped property in Wheat Ridge,” he told council members. “I would never expect we would all agree on what we do with the property, but we hope to have a baseline level of civility as we move forward. We want to see an all-inclusive, multi-use community.”
Whatever use Lutheran proposes for the parcel will need city planning and zoning commission approval, possibly council as well, city Community Development Director Ken Johnston noted.
Part of the parcel SCL Health plans to buy is in the 500-year floodplain of Clear Creek, Carlson noted, but the company plans to build that portion of land up out of the floodplain.
Highway improvements to start soon
As part of the project, a $10 million highway improvement project has involved the city, the Colorado Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration. An environmental assessment determined necessary improvements to the surrounding local street network and I-70. Bids on that work will be sought in May and will take about a year to complete, Carlson said. It will include an exit off I-70 directly into the project, he added.
No single-family homes are planned for the project, Carlson said, only 300 apartment units. One half will be one-bedroom units, the other half two-bedroom units, he added.
Residents expressed concerns to council about protecting wildlife and open space along Clear Creek, the loss of views of the Flatirons and the Front Range and a lack of affordable housing in the project and city as a whole. Other concerns came from residents of the nearby Applewood community over property taxes and public safety due to increased traffic, while others worried about the height of buildings in the project.
Mixed-use zoning allows certain non-residential buildings to be 90 feet tall, said Johnston.
Council members hope project moves forward
Councilman Tim Fitzgerald said the project would give the city “something unlike anything else in the city and the near area.”
“I’m extremely impressed how the developer has carefully listened to our citizens,” he added. “He’s been considerate of Clear Creek and the trail system there.”
Councilwoman Leah Dozeman – a Lutheran employee – said her main concern was to ensure a major employer at the project site was not a nonprofit and would produce sales tax for the city. Lutheran and UCHealth are nonprofit operations.
She added when city voters approved funds for “hook ramps” off I-70 into the project site several years ago, it was with the assumption of a major “big box” store anchoring the project.
“We were going to have major commercial and retail sales tax generators at that time,” Dozeman said. “I hope we will see that in some shape or form.”
Earlier plans for the property included a Cabela’s store in 2005, which were dropped when the Great Recession happened several years later. The site was also considered for a Super Walmart before the company bowed out last year.
Carlson said Evergreen was glad those two companies bowed out of the project.
“Those plans were made before Amazon was the Amazon we have today,” he noted, referring to the huge online company that has made large inroads into the retail industry. “I think it was a blessing in disguise that Cabela’s pulled out. If they had built a 1 million-square-foot, big-box retail store, right now it would be filled with things like churches and trampoline places. Nothing against those establishments, but that’s not what you bargained for back in the day.”
The city collected $27,175 from Evergreen for the rezoning process, and the city expects to reach a tax increment financing agreement with the developer to fund portions of necessary public infrastructure, using a portion of city tax revenues generated from the project.
Carlson said Evergreen hopes to have enough retail business commitments to start groundwork on Clear Creek Crossing this fall and the first businesses could open in 2020.