East Colfax development project gets go-ahead from Aurora City Council

A planned townhome development in the East Colfax corridor can move forward, despite gentrification concerns, the Aurora City Council decided on Monday.

The Grand Avenue project, slated for portions of Akron and Alton streets in northwest Aurora, is expected to bring 53 new units to a vacant lot in the area, each priced around $550,000. The city’s planning commission unanimously approved the proposal, and those in favor of the development say it’s adding much-needed housing inventory to an area where crimes continue to occur. But three residents filed an appeal to the City Council with the help of a grassroots coalition, asking the council to overturn the decision, arguing that it would increase rent costs and displace residents who have already been displaced from their homes before.

The long-neglected area of the city is home to many immigrants and refugees who live in one of the remaining areas for affordable housing in the Denver metro.

Mayor Mike Coffman said he met with neighbors about the area before he even knew about the redevelopment, and they asked that something be done to reduce crime and increase safety.

“It’s one thing if we were tearing down low-income property to replace it with higher-income properties,” Coffman said. “It’s another thing when we have a vacant parcel that is just crime infested, that’s just a blight on the neighborhood. To be able to redevelop that into something … this will make a difference.”

Red T Homes Developer Nate Adams said the council’s decision should come down to whether the development meets the planning commission’s criteria, which the business believes it does, but the higher prices are due current market conditions and construction costs.

“Yes, $550,000 is attainable in the metro area these days,” Adams said. The average price of a home is closer to $700,000 in the metro area. … I personally hate that $550,000 is an attainable price point, but here we are.”

Only four City Council members voted against the project on Monday — Council members Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo, Alison Coombs and Ruben Medina.

Marcano said this was the type of development he wanted to see in every part of the city but at a reasonable price. The city’s median income is about $67,700 per year, and for a person to afford this kind of townhome, they would need to make about $140,000 a year.

Bringing this type of development into the lowest-income, most diverse area of the city would force people out of their longtime neighborhoods and create a larger public safety issue as people struggle even more than they did before, Marcano said.

Groups in opposition to the project held a protest outside the council chambers on Monday night, urging council members to vote against it.

“The Grand Avenue development is not for the majority of people who live in Aurora, and certainly not for the people who live in the community,” Nate Kassa who works with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

Rents will increase in the neighborhood where “the number of rent-burdened households is approaching 50%,” Kassa added.

The Aurora resident and immigrant cited the Aurora Housing Strategy Report, which stated that in 2019, 56% of renters in Aurora couldn’t afford to buy a home that cost more than $200,000, while only 10% of the city’s housing stock was within that range. That means most of the owners are likely people from outside of Aurora.

But other residents at the meeting spoke in favor of the project, with one who had lived in the neighborhood since 1999 saying that her son saw a rape occur across the street from her home in a vacant lot. Another said she welcomed the development to help clean up the East Colfax area and vacant areas that were attracting bad behavior.

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