Aurora council approves Iliff station apartment complex despite outcry from Heather Gardens residents

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AURORA | Around 230 residents from Aurora’s Heather Gardens neighborhood nearly filled city council chambers for the second time in three months Monday, Jan. 11, to comment on the city’s first transit-oriented residential community, which should be breaking ground in April, according to developers.

Tom Parko, a resident with a group called the Heather Gardens Concerned Citizens Alliance, said he wanted the council to recognize a number of residents’ reservations about the project with a ‘no’ vote. 

“We are here to ask for a no vote,” he said. “Not on the right of development companies to make a profit, not on the right of Aurora to increase revenue through growth. We ask for this no vote to uphold the right of the individual citizen, the very concerned citizens who see the development having an extremely negative impact.” 

Slated for the northeast corner of South Anaheim Street and East Yale Avenue near the Regional Transportation District’s future Iliff Station light rail station, the 424-unit apartment complex is intended to attract young professionals and those looking to live near a light rail hub to the area.

Council members voted 7-4 in support of the project. Council members Bob Roth,  Barb Cleland, Angela Lawson and Mayor Steve Hogan voted against the measure.

The site sits on nearly 10 acres of vacant land. When built, the development will have 424 multi-family apartments spread across 18 buildings. Some buildings will be three stories, and others four, according to design plans. The complex will include  212 one-bedrooms, 180 two- bedrooms, and 32 three-bedrooms, according to the project’s developer Steelwave, LLC.

“The developer did what my neighbors asked him to do,” said Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson, whose constituents live near the project. “We’ve had two hours of testimony, a dozen witnesses, hundreds of pages of material. Taken together, this project warrants approval.”

Ward V Councilman Bob Roth, whose ward encompasses Heather Gardens, said he voted no based on resident feedback.

“I’m concerned we’re going to ignore nearly 4,000 people that are residents of Heather Gardens and are not in favor of this project,” Roth said. 

Councilwoman Barb Cleland also voted against the project, citing the state’s construction-defects law and its presumed connection to a lack of housing construction for why the complex won’t be owner-occupied.

“We’re at a point in Aurora where we don’t need to accept three-story walkups anymore,” she said. “I wanted something more and something similar to Heather Gardens.” 

Heather Gardens resident Bruce Cairns said the project goes against a council-approved 2009 plan because of its density and the fact that the units are rentals instead of condos or single-family homes. He also said Heather Gardens residents wanted to see less parking for the complex.

David Foster, a lawyer for the Heather Gardens Metro District, also said the city disregarded density and compatibility measures proposed in its 2009 transit-oriented development district plan.  

“How come this is for-rent  and not owner occupied?” asked Councilwoman Barb Cleland. 

Michael Sheldon, representing Steelwave, LLC, said the project could only be financed as a rental. He blamed the state’s construction-defects laws for why developers were not constructing units to own. Sheldon added that while neighbors have raised concerns, developers have been working for a decade on the Iliff Station area and decreased the project’s density from 493 units to 424.

“This has been a long discussion we have had with the city and neighbors,” he said at the meeting.

According to city documents, 31 neighborhood groups  have been notified about the final site plans, and the city received 400 pages of comment on the project as of December 2015.

Diana Rael, an architect on the project with Norris Design, added that after 14 neighborhood meetings, the site plan was reoriented to incorporate more parks and open space and less pavement. 

Those changes and others aimed at lessening congestion won the approval of the nearby independent and assisted living facility, St. Andrew’s Village, located half a mile south of the future station on East Yale Avenue.

Albert Melcher, a resident of St. Andrew’s who is chairman of its RTD-TOD committee, said at the meeting he supported the project and that transit-oriented development would greatly benefit Aurora.

According to city documents, about 76 percent (324 units) of the apartments will be in  three-story buildings on the southern portion of the site. The remaining 100 units will be in four-story buildings on the northern end closer to Harvard Avenue. The complex is set to include  654 parking spaces, which the city says is three times what is required under its TOD zoning district laws.

A traffic report prepared by SteelWave showed Blackhawk Street, located just east of the complex, would see the biggest traffic bump. The intersection of Iliff Avenue and Blackhawk Street already serves 4,600 vehicles per hour during the peak evening rush hours. Blackhawk Street south of Iliff Avenue is anticipated to receive the brunt of new traffic when the apartments are completed, and serve about 145 vehicles per hour during peak evening rush hour.

Norris Design has described the development as one with a “high level of amenities and social interaction.” The design plan includes a central park area that can be used as a great lawn/gathering area, an outdoor amphitheater, and playgrounds. Those amenities also include a 9,875-square-foot clubhouse replete with a pool and spa area and an indoor fitness center. The complex will also include walkable paths to the nearby light rail station.

According to city officials, Monday’s hearing was the last public hearing regarding the complex project unless legal action requires it in the future. That would occur at the district court level.