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New Upper Downtown Project: 14th and Court Apartments

A new apartment tower rising upwards of 14 stories may soon occupy a small 10,620 square foot site at 14th Street and Court Place in Upper Downtown Denver.

Block 233 is the tiny triangle-shaped block bounded by 14th Street, West Colfax Avenue, and Court Place where the downtown and metro grids meet. The site currently is home to the Denver Warm Welcome Court Childcare building, constructed in 1977. Below are Google Earth aerial and street view images with the location outlined in yellow:

2016-02-27_14th-court-apartments-aerial

2016-02-27_14th-court-apartments-street-view

Recently, the Denver Post reported that Urban Villages, developer of Sugar Cube in LoDo, and Jeff Hermanson, CEO of Larimer Associates, are under contract to purchase the site from the City and County of Denver. The daycare center currently on the site will relocate to the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse at the Denver Justice Center.

The tower will feature ground-floor retail and restaurant uses, with the majority of the residential units as micro-apartments in the 300-350 square foot range. Given the small size and triangular shape of the parcel, accommodating structured or underground parking within the project is not practical and no parking will be provided on site except for possibly a few car-share spaces. The property is zoned D-C (Downtown Core). There are no parking requirements for any uses in the D-C zone.

The property is subject to the Civic Center View Plane that restricts building heights in the Civic Center area to preserve mountain views from the state capitol. For this parcel, the height of a building may not exceed 5,391 feet above sea level in elevation. According to Google Earth, the ground elevation of the site is approximately 5,239 feet above sea level, resulting in a building with a maximum building height of about 152 feet. The map below, courtesy of the City and County of Denver, shows the Civic Center View Plane height restrictions:

2016-02-27_14th-court-apartments-view-plane

As the Denver Post article notes, the proposed tower could be between 12 and 14 stories tall depending on the ultimate design of the tower and its floor-to-ceiling heights. Typically for multi-family residential buildings, each story is approximately 10 feet in height except for the ground-floor, which usually is in the 15-20 foot range. With a little over 150 feet to work with, that comes out to about a 12-14 story building. Given the preliminary status of the tower’s design, the number of units has not been reported nor is a rendering available.

This project will add a much-needed residential use to a part of Downtown that is dominated by government office uses during the day, which makes the area fairly dead at night. The proposed tower will also pair with the 192-foot high Wellington Webb Municipal Building across 14th Street to nicely anchor and frame the end of 14th Street.

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24 Comments

  1. Nash says:

    Great report, Ken! As much as view planes seem over-done in most of Denver, this one from the front steps of the State Capitol is well-justified, and your explanation is excellent. The graphic map’s site-line “bowl” affecting Downtown blocks in all directions around the statehouse shows how views not just FROM — but OF — the building are important.

    Because of the height ceiling along Colfax, this relatively small building can have a very positive impact on the streetwall — and it can warm up the rather barren feeling around this intersection, especially at night.

    This is important infill — replacing a nondescript one-story building, not worth saving. It will also create a visual “screen” at the end of 14th Street, helping to hide a vapid array of surface parking lots. Let’s hope it happens, bringing some life to West Colfax!

  2. James says:

    Isn’t there an additional view plane code that is measured from the Natural History Museum on Colorado Blvd.? If so it seems that not only is Denver for the most part land locked but it his height locked as well.

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      James, that City Park view plane stops on the east side of Downtown along mostly Sherman Street. Much of the Central Business District between 14th and 18th has no height restrictions, limited only by Floor Area Ratio.

      • John R says:

        Could you explain the floor area ratio law as applied in Denver? What unintended (or intended) consequences does it generate?

        • Ken Schroeppel says:

          Floor Area Ratio is a common zoning metric used for calculating the ratio of gross building square footage to the lot size. Since lots come in all shapes and sizes, you can’t have regulations that say “buildings cannot exceed X square feet” because the size of the lot must be taken into consideration. Therefore, FAR-based zoning regulations limit building square footage as a ratio to the size of the lot. If the zoning code says the maximum FAR for a parcel is 10:1, and if the lot is, say, 50,000 square feet in size, then the maximum building size you can put on that lot is 500,000 square feet. Most of Denver’s Central Business District between 14th and 18th has no height limit, so in our hypothetical example of a 500,000 SF building on a 50,000 SF lot, the building could take on any of these forms:

          10-story building consisting of 50,000 SF floorplates covering 100% of the lot
          15-story building consisting of 33,333 SF floorplates covering 67% of the lot
          20-story building consisting of 25,000 SF floorplates covering 50% of the lot
          50-story building consisting of 10,000 SF floorplates covering 20% of the lot
          100-story building consisting of 5,000 SF floorplates covering 10% of the lot

          Add in the option of having building step-backs on upper floors to create different sized floorplates, and the possible combinations are numerous. Regardless, the FAR dictates HOW MUCH building square footage you can put on a lot, but not necessarily WHAT FORM that square footage must take.

          Downtown Denver’s zoning code is fairly liberal as zoning goes.

          In terms of consequences, FAR by itself is a rather crude tool to shape urban development, so if not used with other regulations, could result in poor urban form. But if used in combination with other design requirements, such as setbacks or build-to lines, ground-floor transparency, etc., it can be fairly benign. FAR has fallen out of favor to some degree with form-based zoning (like the new Denver zoning code) but Downtown was not rezoned as part of the 2010 rezoning, so FAR is still used as a basic metric for new downtown buildings.

          I hope that helps!

          • Nash says:

            Ken, I’m sure you remember thirty-some years ago, when two churches on Broadway, Holy Ghost and Trinity, sold their “air rights” to developers, allowing taller buildings to be built next to them. Trinity Square was never built (the market collapsed), but the 43-story office tower that’s literally “over” Holy Ghost did go up. Under current zoning, do those air rights agreements still apply to current sites, and can they allow a building that exceeds FAR?

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            Good question, Jim. Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) allow for what you’re talking about but I’m not sure if the TDRs from one site can allow another site to exceed the maximum FAR per zoning or not. Perhaps. It’s rather complicated. I’d have to look into it.

          • Philip says:

            This is the first I’ve heard of Trinity Square. Does anyone know where I could find a rendering of this long-forgotten proposal?
            Thanks.

          • Rick says:

            I thought I read recently that Emily Griffith was going to be partnering with a firm to build so affordable housing in the space around Trinity Square using the ‘air rights’. They were also going to be adding to the parking structure currently on site. I hope that comes to fruition.

          • toast2042 says:

            That does help, thank you. What do you imply by saying that FAR alone, or no regulation, could “result in poor urban form”? Why not a 5-story building consisting of 50,000 SF floorplates? It would be massive, no doubt, but I’m not clear on the harm. Do many of the hundred year old building downtown confirm to the modern FAR standard?

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            I just mean that if we used FAR as the only way of regulating the shape of a building, it could allow for buildings that have a form that many people may find problematic. But add in other tools like building stepbacks on the upper floors, ground-floor tranparency, build-to and set-back requirements, etc., can result in building more people consider to be “better” in different ways. Zoning is a tool to help create the city we want. Tools range from crude to precise and often the use of multiple tools results in a better product.

          • David says:

            Ken, as always, thank you for this incredibly detailed explanation!

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            You’re welcome!

          • Zach says:

            I think it is worth pointing out that one potential consequence of FAR is decreasing the height of the building and utilization of the land. I personally don’t understand why FAR should be applied in the downtown core.

  3. Michael says:

    With all the surface parking nearby waiting to be developed, it is interesting that the city will be scraping a perfectly good building. I know where the residents are going to put their cars.

    • DC says:

      I am curious why you feel this is a “perfectly good building”? This new building could encourage development of the surface lots around it.

    • Ryan says:

      1.) Your standards for both “perfect” and “good” are awfully low.

      2.) The market for 350 sq. ft. apartments are not people interested in car commutes. And even if they are, there are plenty of $200/mo garages around who would be happy for the business.

    • Mickael says:

      I agree that the building is not much to look at, and the Bauhaus-influenced style does not give a friendly pedestrian environment. However, with the right tenant and right architect, this building can become a useful commercial location. A 15 story building on such a tiny footprint is going to look like a stripper pole.

      • UrbanZen says:

        This triangle parcel appears to be a tad bigger than the one bound by Broadway, 18th and Glenarm, and that parcel has a 13-story building on it. It hardly looks anything like a stripper pole. Go take a look at it in Google Earth.

      • JerryG says:

        No, it will probably look more like 1800 Glenarm, but hopefully with better architecture. A one-story building is no longer appropriate at such a downtown location. It severely underutilizes that location given the current development environment.

  4. Julio says:

    Michael, I don’t think anyone will really miss this building and the reality is that most of the residents probably won’t own cars. The Denver Post writeup of this project describes having ample bike and carsharing at this site. When I live in Capitol Hill I didn’t own a car and got around perfectly well via bike and public transit. At this location, the residents will certainly be able to do the same. Most will likely work Downtown so there really is no need to own a car.

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  6. Corey says:

    It’s great to see some of these less prominent lots redeveloped. This is a great site for residential. The view over looking Civic Center Park will be cool. I’m excited to see what is planned for old Emily Griffith property.