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Federal Center

Coalition's plans for Fed Center denied

Announcement made by Mayor Adam Paul

Posted
The federal government’s denial March 23 of a plan to develop 59 acres near the Federal Center in Lakewood into a housing and resource center for the homeless dismayed its proponents, who say they will continue to fight for the proposal.
 
“We are very disappointed,” said Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the proposal’s author. “We believe HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) erred in its decision based on the law and the facts. We will immediately appeal to HHS and, if we do not get positive response, we will likely be going back to court to protect rights of people experiencing homelessness in Lakewood and Jefferson County.”
 
But the decision elated opponents, who have loudly protested the plan’s size and scope.
 
“I just feel enormous relief and great pride in what a true grassroots effort was able to accomplish,” said Ronda Frazier, who founded the Facebook group Lakewood Residents Unite to raise awareness and opposition to the project. “This was a poorly planned project from the get-go. The coalition wanted the...land and everyone, the citizens of Lakewood and the homeless themselves, were given little or no consideration.”
 
Mayor Adam Paul announced the decision March 26 in a statement on his Facebook page. According to Paul, the GSA sent him a brief email saying the proposal had been denied, without any explanation as to why.
 
“Like this whole process, the information about what comes next is pretty vague,” Paul said. “What I hope is that this will be a starting point for people to work on the homeless problem — because it’s not going away.”
 
The website of the federal General Services Administration (GSA), which owns the 59 undeveloped acres between St. Anthony Hospital and the Federal Center, states the online auction for the land will resume soon. According to a release from the GSA, the new auction start date will be announced on April 2.
 
All that is required to start bidding is a monetary deposit, which is posted on the online auction site, and to fill out a 1-page Bid Form that is kept confidential by GSA, according to the release.
 
“The sale of this property will provide an opportunity to transform underutilized federal real estate into a transit oriented development that will spur economic growth,” said Tim Horne, GSA Acting Regional Administrator, Rocky Mountain Region. “This approach is part of a long term master plan for the Denver Federal Center and we envision that it will benefit the community and the 6,000 plus workers at the center in the same way as the 2007 land sale that led to the development of a regional hospital and transportation district.”
 
The coalition proposed building temporary housing for about 250 homeless people that could include trailers, geodesic domes and large tents. A second phase would build 500 to 600 permanent affordable housing units in apartment buildings capable of housing 1,000 people. The coalition considered turning about 12 acres in the northern section of the property into a solar panel farm to help power the campus.
 
The denial is the latest development in a debate over the property that goes back to October 2015. Residents’ concern over lack of information and time to do the necessary groundwork on a mixed-use development project between the City of Lakewood and the GSA led to negotiations ending in January 2016. In May 2017, the GSA put up the property for an online auction.
 
The coalition filed an injunction against the GSA on July 25, asking the court to halt the auction until the GSA provided the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) all details of the property and gave HUD a chance to determine if the land could be used for homeless services.
 
The injunction was filed under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which requires federal agencies to identify and make available surplus federal property, such as buildings and land, for use by states, local governments and nonprofit agencies to assist homeless people.
 
On Sept. 25, HUD released a letter announcing that the land could be used for homeless services and ordered the GSA to cancel its site auction.
Federal regulations require a plan that would use the entire 59 acres — all or nothing. Regulations also don’t allow for much in the way of mixed used development. That meant the coalition’s plan had to focus solely on housing for the homeless, Alderman said. 
 
Because it is federal land, Lakewood city officials also have no say in the land’s use, a fact that caused many residents to say they felt cut out of the process and their concerns were being ignored.
The debate among community members has been passionate and, at times, bitter.
 
Opponents decried the size of the project and its proximity to the already busy Union Boulevard corridor, which is home to St. Anthony Hospital, Sheraton Denver West and numerous restaurants and businesses.
 
 
Those who supported the proposal spoke about a need for housing services to assist the homeless, paritcularly in a housing market where homeownership and rent is so expensive.
 
Faith leaders and some citizens stepped in to encourage kindness and compassion to neighbors with different opinions — and the homeless.
 
“As Christians, we believe we are called to be peacemakers and to build bridges between people who may have different views,” Steve Curtis, senior pastor of Lakewood Church of Christ, said before the March 23 decision. “We understand that the community feels disrespected by not being allowed to have a true voice or seat at the table in regard to the coalition’s plans. We also understand the fears that are attached to a very large population of homeless being imported into the community at a single site.”
 
“Our community has a track record of opposing ideas proposed by people we don’t know and trust, and I fear this scenario is playing out in our community now,” said Reg Cox, a former pastor and director of the Lakewood Faith Coalition and Lakewood Church Network, also before the decision was announced. “Until we work together and treat all people with respect we stand to ruin or diminish the great qualities of our county and city.”
 
Resident Chelly Magers started the Facebook group Lakewood Residents with Compassion Unite to bring a positive approach to the proposed project and the people it could help. She expressed disappointment at news of the denial.
 
“I think it’s really unfortunate that they’ll probably end up building overpriced condos there instead,” she said. “Whatever is built there probably won’t be helping the community in any way, shape or form.”

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