(Re)build it and they will come


AURORA | The tan brick building at the corner of South Havana Street and East Kentucky Avenue looks ripe for redevelopment.

Nestled on bustling Havana near busy car dealerships, auto parts stores and buzzing shopping centers, the dilapidated property is a speck of inactivity in a sea of commerce.

But with city officials relaxing some strict zoning rules that have fueled criticism in the past, business leaders say properties like the one at 897 S. Havana St. are getting more interest from developers.

“They are hoping to take advantage,” Gayle Jetchick, executive director of the Havana Business Improvement District, said of developers who have their eye on the 897 S. Havana St. property and others.

And to that improving redevelopment climate, city officials last month sweetened the deal: From now until the end of 2013, the city will waive rezoning fees for properties inside the various Sustainable Infill and Redevelopment Zoning District.

Mike Smyth, planning supervisor for the City of Aurora, said that for a one-acre property, those fees could range from $5,800 all the way up to $12,500, depending on the deal.

City council last spring approved new zoning districts that would make it easier for developers to build multi-use developments that could combine commercial, residential and retail endeavors. The new Sustainable Infill and Redevelopment Zoning District doesn’t require developers to complete a cumbersome General Development Plan, which could save them thousands of dollars.

The district isn’t one contiguous tract of land, but includes several areas around town, particularly along Havana and East Colfax Avenue. In general, areas that fall in the district are high-profile pieces of properties on busy streets.

City officials launched the program amid criticism that the city’s zoning rules — particularly for redeveloping property — were too onerous. Businesses complained that Aurora’s rules were too burdensome and required pricey fixes just to meet the city’s mandates.

For example, business leaders said the rules generally meant if a developer wanted to buy a retail property and refurbish it, they often could only put another retail business there. Other uses were out of the question.

Smyth said the SIR rules mean businesses have more options when they set out to redevelop a property.

“It allows mixed use in a much broader selection of uses for a given property,” he said.

The difficulty, Smyth said, is that new development has to align with the city’s rules for landscaping and parking and other rules, all while trying to find a use that suits the business owner.

“That’s kind of the challenge and we are trying to be as flexible as we can,” he said.

Jetchick said that in recent meetings between zoning officials and businesses hoping to redevelop property, that new flexibility has been on display.

“They gave them a couple options,” she said. “Before it was ‘my way or the highway’ and ‘too bad if you don’t like it.’”

As for the building at 897 S. Havana St., it falls within the SIR district and Jetchick said a developer hoping to turn the former doctor’s office into a convenience store is showing serious interest.

Jetchick said more businesses will be drawn to Aurora because of the SIR deal because doing business here is easier than it was just a year ago.

“The tone has changed. It’s a lot more business-friendly and I think it’s going to help,” she said.

Denver has had relaxed rules for similar infill redevelopment for years, Jetchick said, and some businesses chose to locate there rather than Aurora because of it. With Aurora’s relaxed rules, that should change.

“Now we’ve got (relaxed zoning rules) too, and we have this added bonus of waiving the fees,” she said.

Smyth said there aren’t any formal plans in place for businesses to take advantage of the new SIR rules, but he expects businesses to come knocking soon.

“We’ve had some interest,” he said. “We haven’t had a formal application to date, but I think we will in the near future.”