BY FREDA MIKLIN
On April 24, the Aurora City Council upheld the decision of its Planning & Zoning Commission’s (P & Z) approving the Echelon at Eagle Bend Multi-Family Site Plan with adjustments on a vote of 8 to 3. Voting to support the project and P & Z were Council Members Crystal Murillo, Steve Sundberg, Ruben Medina, Juan Marcano, Alison Coombs, Curtis Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky, and Dustin Zvonek. Voting against the project and P & Z were Mayor Mike Coffman and Council Members Françoise Bergan and Angela Lawson.
In Aurora, a land use project that meets the elements of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and other applicable requirements need only be approved by P & Z. The only role of the city council is to hear an appeal of that decision, should one be requested. That is what occurred with this project.
Aja Tibbs, senior planner in the city’s planning development services department, told the council that the property is 14.73 acres on the southeast corner of E. Aurora Parkway and S. Quemoy Way, just east of the Heritage Eagle Bend (HEB) 55-and-over Planned Development. She explained that the entire area is governed by the Eagle Bend General Development Plan (GDP) which contains the building and development standards for the area. Development projects must also be harmonized with the applicable zoning standards, the UDO, and the city’s comprehensive plan.
Originally zoned for assisted living, the property was rezoned to multi-family residential in 2006, making that a use by right. It remained vacant until 2022, when a developer, Garrett Properties from Indiana, bought the land to build a multi-family complex named Echelon, which will have 260 units over 10 multi-family buildings, a clubhouse, pool, and maintenance building, plus a dog park and open space path.
Five of the ten residential buildings are two or three stories located along the back and interior of the site. The other five are four stories, located along Aurora Parkway. “Parking requirements are met by a mixture of tuck-under parking, detached garages, and surface parking,” Tibbs told the council that the proposal “will improve and expand existing bicycle and pedestrian conductivity through the site in the community through Aurora Parkway.”
Finally, Tibbs said, “The project is compatible with surrounding institutional and residential uses. The proposal has minimal external impacts on the surrounding area and provides housing opportunities for Aurora residents on a vacant parcel designated for multifamily use,” adding that, “adverse impacts are mitigated.”
For those reasons, she reported that P & Z voted unanimously to approve the site plan and adjustments on March 8, 2023.
On March 17, the Eagle Bend Metropolitan District appealed the planning commission’s decision and on March 20, 27 abutting property owners from HEB also filed an appeal. Both were based on the appellants’ belief that the project was not in compliance with the Eagle Bend GDP and that city staff, along with P & Z, had incorrectly determined that the project met applicable standards for architectural style, maximum allowed building height, and usable open space.
Ashley Bedell, vice president of development for The Garrett Companies, testified to the council that, “Since our initial filing in May 2022, we have worked with staff to confirm our project complies with the Eagle Bend GDP and the UDO. This was validated by the approval we received from P & Z on March 8 (which) came after the commission’s careful consideration of the same issues raised on appeal by the neighbors.”
She continued, “The GDP anticipated more intense uses, including commercial and multifamily, would occur along Aurora Parkway, a major arterial.” Bedell went on to describe the great care that had been taken to ensure appropriate setbacks and transition between Echelon and HEB when decisions were made about building types and building placement.
Describing the role of the project in the community, Bedell said, “Not only will this project fill a need for middle housing within the City of Aurora, it will appeal to a variety of residents through two different building types,” referring to the five four-story elevator buildings on the north side of the project, compared to five buildings on the south that will be, “more of a 2 ½ story home that’s more like a duplex or a townhome that has direct entries.”
Finally, she presented a chart showing that Echelon will have fewer units, more parking, and larger setbacks than what is required by the GDP and UDO.
Next, Will Schippers testified to the council on behalf of the Eagle Bend Metropolitan District that the proposed Echelon development did not meet architectural design, height, or neighborhood harmony requirements because, “The Garrett four-story Echelon buildings are more representative of a hotel,” and, “It is inconceivable that the authors of the Eagle Bend GDP would have ever envisioned a hotel-type building being a part of any residential area within Eagle Bend.”
Schippers concluded, “The City of Aurora has no obligation, nor the authority to allow noncompliance with the GDP standards just to make the project financially feasible or desirable to Garrett. The district requests that the City of Aurora not approve the project as designed and recommends Garrett eliminate all four-story buildings,” adding, “When Garrett recently wanted to relocate their offices, they did not choose Aurora. They moved their offices from Lone Tree to the Denver Tech Center,” which shows that, “Garrett is not invested in this community.”
HEB resident James Folk testified next on behalf of 825 other residents of HEB whose names were included in documents submitted to the council. His claims of non-compliance generally mirrored Schippers.
Folk also asserted that the four-story buildings, were “as high as a six-story building,” when “placed on top of the proposed topography.”
He said that Garrett’s renderings showing that areas near detention ponds were usable for recreational activities were, “wrong and deceptive,” and that, if the areas that are not usable are not counted, usable open space would be 38%, not the required 45%.
After City Council Member Danielle Jurinsky elicited from Folk that HEB was comprised of 1,442 homes containing 2,500 residents, she noted, “I have received several emails from HEB residents supporting this development,” and, “I understand your HOA board supports this development.”
Later, David Foster, land use attorney for the developer, testified that the 2006 rezoning allows multi-family development at 25 units per acre (that calculates to 368 units—this proposal is for 260) and that, “Property and its value is a creation that you gave it back in 2006 when your predecessors on city council created this entitlement,” adding, “The density and the height are allowed.”
As the council voted on whether to sustain the appeal or support P & Z’s conclusion, only Council Member Bergan talked about why she voted as she did (to reverse P & Z), saying, “Although city staff and planning commission believe it meets all requirements,” there were “inconsistencies between the GDP and the UDO” and she “has issues with the height.” Bergan also said she disagreed with the established City of Aurora policy of accepting payment in lieu of requiring a park, adding, “Traffic is going to be a huge issue,” despite city traffic engineers concluding it met applicable standards, and, “Parking is an issue,” despite meeting GDP requirements.