Greenwood Village History 2000-2015
Continuing Mayor David Phifer era: 1996 – 2003
Reducing Traffic in Neighborhoods
As the new millennium dawned, Greenwood Village officials were actively working to minimize disruption from traffic to neighborhoods. The problem has been building for decades. It was the number one issue in the 1980s. With more development and annexations in and near Greenwood Village in the 1990s, leaders knew a regional approach was needed.
One proposal, called Cherry Creek Crossing, would have extended Orchard Road all the way east to Parker Road, creating an east/west roadway crossing the Cherry Creek State Park. This was opposed both by park officials and users and by Greenwood Village residents who did not want the increased traffic in their neighborhoods.
In 1997, the Village entered into a Mediated Transportation Agreement between the City of Aurora, Arapahoe County, and the Joint Southeast Public Improvement Association. The agreement called for transportation improvements and a regional plan to alleviate current and future traffic congestion. The improvements, known as the Four Corners area, were outlined within four major interchanges: Interstate 225 and Interstate 25; Arapahoe Road and Interstate 25; Arapahoe Road and Parker Road; and Parker Road and Interstate 225.
This agreement eliminated any future plans for the Cherry Creek Crossing. A key project of the Mediated Transportation Agreement was the closure of Jordan Road that also crossed Cherry Creek State Park, bisecting the park on the south end.
This was made possible by a land exchange that gave parkland on the east side for use with the I-225 interchange at Parker Road. In exchange, land on the south side was to revert to parkland.
Officials were given five years to close the road, waiting until the interchange was completed. By 2003, Jordan Road was still open and discussions were underway to extend Orchard Road across the state park. “Cherry Creek Crossing would have been a killer, “said Mayor David Phifer. “When the county did not live up to the Four Corners agreement, we took action. One morning, we closed Jordan Road with big, cone-shaped concrete barriers.”
The road closure was “one of the biggest things we did. It was a big battle with the Arapahoe County commissioners. We tried to do it jointly but it fell on deaf ears so we just closed it,” he explained. “It was really with the blessing of the state park. Jordan Road cut the park in half. And the road was putting children in danger. The intersection at Dayton and Belleview is one of the main walkways for the Cherry Creek Schools Main campus.” The media coverage died down. The road was reconstructed to create a sweeping curve to Arapahoe Road at Peoria.
Water Quality in Cherry Creek Reservoir
A related quality of life issue was an effort to improve water quality at Cherry Creek State Park. Colorado House Bill 66 expanded representation on the Cherry Creek Basin Commission to include representatives of local government. Greenwood Village City Council member Mike DeChadenes worked diligently to represent Greenwood Village on the commission, Phifer said.
Public education was an important part of the effort, raising awareness about the risk of fertilizer used on yards polluting the water. In the past, Cherry Creek reservoir had to be closed to swimming due to contamination from runoff. Standards have been raised and water quality has improved.
Annexation Versus Centennial Incorporation
In the late 1990s, Greenwood Village decided to annex part of Arapahoe County southeast of the Village. The goal was to bring in residential and commercial property to plan for the future. “Traffic on Arapahoe Road was a nightmare,” Phifer said. The annexation was designed to achieve balance in revenue and expenditures. For every $1 dollar received in residential property taxes, it costs $10 to provide services. With commercial property every dollar in services is matched with $1 in revenue. Some area residents wanted to be part of Greenwood Village but others sued. Greenwood Village won the first round at District Court but lost at the Supreme Court. The prevailing side created the City of Centennial.
“Those in favor of Centennial made statements that were inaccurate,” Phifer said. “All of our predictions have come true; they had to raise the sales tax. But the annexation did not happen. Greenwood Village is still a fabulous City. We did some annexations where the City surrounded the land, including a flagpole annexation down Belleview to pick up residential areas off of Peoria and east on Belleview. Also annexed were some residences south of Cherry Creek Reservoir.
The Link Circulator Bus
To encourage mass transit and reduce congestion in the commercial areas of the city, Greenwood Village collaborated with two metro districts and the City and County of Denver to bring a circulator bus to the Denver Technological Center and Greenwood Plaza. The goal was to help those taking a bus to work by providing a “link” between the last half mile from crosstown bus stops and their place of employment. It was also intended to encourage drivers who wanted to use transit over lunch. The bus completed its first year of service in 2000, shuttling more than 135,000 riders throughout the commercial areas of Greenwood Village. The Southeast Transportation Authority (SETA) managed the agreement with financial support from the Village and taxes paid by business owners. The link operated 12 to 13 buses from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. They ran in a loop northbound and southbound on both sides of I-25. The goal was for people never to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. The service was free and it ran until 2006 when light rail came to the area. Bus service in the two office parks is now part of a broader system in the Southeast transportation corridor.
Centennial Airport is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the United States for private planes. One issue of ongoing concern to residents was the possibility that scheduled passenger service might begin at Centennial Airport, greatly increasing air traffic and noise with larger and noisier jet planes. The City of Greenwood Village worked with its neighbors to have legislation passed in Congress that limited the airport to general aviation with some charter flight services.
President George W. Bush signed the 2003 Omnibus Spending Bill that contained a landmark law sponsored by Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell that kept Centennial a general aviation airport but also specifically allowed Centennial Airport to regain federal funding. The Federal Aviation Administration had rejected federal funding for the airport starting in 1998, which created financial pressure leading to consideration of scheduled passenger service.
“It was truly landmark legislation,” said former District 3 Council member Karen Blilie. “It was the first time in history that an airport was able to keep airlines out and still be eligible for federal funding. It took a number of communities, stakeholders and a coalition of elected and civic leaders – a unified community – to make it happen.”
A major amenity that was completed in 2000 was Westlands Park at Quebec and Orchard Road. The city acquired land and added a number of features, including a 32-foot high entrance arch representing the four seasons. The park contains playgrounds geared to different age groups, a lake and extensive green space. “The city spent a significant amount of money to acquire the land and provide recreation for citizens,” Phifer noted. “People from throughout the area use it for ice skating, picnics and the climbing walls. It is a regional destination.”
A win-win agreement between Mayor Phifer and John Madden, developer of the Greenwood Village Athletic and Tennis Club, provided Greenwood Village residents access to an outstanding facility that will one day be owned by the Village. “John and I met at the Broker Restaurant on Belleview and carved out a deal on a napkin,” Phifer said, “that let Village residents to use their $500 a year recreation reimbursement towards their membership at the athletic club.” At the time, Village residents could only use the reimbursement fee at public facilities, such as golf courses owned by the cities of Aurora and Denver. The reimbursement was established when Greenwood Village opted out of the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District. The City Council established the reimbursement program to offset some of the costs residents incurred by using South Suburban or other facilities as non-residents.
Phifer and Madden came up with creative financing that provided a mechanism for Greenwood Village to buy the Athletic Club over 25 years using the reimbursement and the city’s bonding authority. Greenwood Village formed a Metropolitan District and the Madden family sold bonds that would be paid off over 25 years. The bonds were backed by the value of the real estate, a tool available to municipalities.
“At the end of the 25-year term – whether or not the bonds are paid off – the city will own one of the finest athletic clubs in the nation,” Phifer explained. “The only thing it costs the city is our residents using the $500 reimbursement to pay toward the dues.”
The Metro District Board has a representative from the city to ensure that funds are spent properly, including establishing a replacement reserve to keep the physical structure and equipment inside the club in first class condition. Dave Phifer was the first Village representative to sit on the Metro District board.
Creating a Skate Park
As the father of three sons and two daughters, Phifer was interested in involving young people in city activities. “When I was in office, my two younger sons were in high school. We formed a Youth Commission and did lots of things. The commission was ‘my baby.’ I thought it was important to give kids a say in government.”
“My sons were skateboarders,” he continued. “People thought skateboarders were ‘the wrong kind of kids.’ They found that was totally untrue.” The skate park is next to the police department – a high visibility area. The youth were invested in the park’s success because they helped design it and raised money for its completion. “We made them work for it,” Phifer noted. “The park was expensive, so the kids sold bricks with their family’s name on it. The bricks became a walkway around the park. “It took a couple of years to raise the funds, but it is a popular recreation site now. “
David Phifer served as mayor from 1996 – 2003 when he turned over the reins to Mayor Nancy Sharpe.
Mayor Nancy Sharpe Era: 2003-2010
Transportation expansion (T-REX)
Before 2003, an attempt had been made to bring light rail to the south I-25 corridor. While initial efforts failed, business leaders and elected officials were not deterred. Those leaders along I-25 from southern Denver County to northern Douglas County kept moving forward. Forming coalitions with other parts of the metro area and promising that if those leaders would support funding for light rail along the south I-25 corridor, leaders from the south metro area would, in turn, support funding in future years for light rail in their cities and counties.
The priority of light rail construction along this south corridor before others in the metro area made sense in several ways. First, there was more employment along this corridor than others in metro Denver. That would enable a greater number of employees to use transit to reach their employment. Second, an environmental impact study along the southeast corridor, required for construction, was almost complete. Similar studies in other corridors were not as far along.
Although coalitions were built, opposition remained. Some metro area citizens felt that that construction of a light rail system was just too expensive. They said that light rail ridership would not be adequate to pay for the service and that traffic congestion on the highway would not improve. Others in the metro area, particularly a few Boulder elected officials, supported light rail but did not want the road widened as part of the project. Their objection was philosophical; transit was fine but don’t widen the road because that encouraged people drive more.
For Greenwood Village, the widening of I-25 was essential because Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village was the “pinch point” for traffic going into Denver from the south. There were lots of accidents. At the time, Greenwood Village Council member Candy Figa was on the board of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG). Since approval by DRCOG membership was a necessary step to receive federal funding, Figa had to win votes there by insisting that widening I-25 needed to be part of the project for South Metro voters to support it. She was right.
Despite the opposition and due to a significant effort made by business groups and business and elected leaders, a statewide vote passed in November 1999 to fund transportation projects across the state including South I-25 light rail and highway widening. Along with that vote came a pledge of $30 million from cities and counties along the corridor. Denver funded half of that with the balance coming from Southeast Public Improvement Metro District (formerly Joint SE Public Improvement Association), Greenwood Village, Centennial, Lone Tree, Arapahoe County and Douglas County. T-REX became the name of the project.
Construction on the project finally began in October 2001. In order to make room for two sets of light rail tracks and lanes to be added to the highway, it was necessary for CDOT or RTD to condemn land that included parking lots for existing building. “Our pediatrician’s building which was right next to the highway and they lost their entire employee parking on the west side of their building,” Sharpe noted. “CDOT had to work with property owners to compensate them for their business losses. The road widening would benefit those traveling I-25 by car but was difficult for property owners. Greenwood Village had an easier time than Denver though because we did not have residential property along I-25 that had to condemned. In Denver, noise walls had to be built along several parts of I-25 to help reduce noise from the highway since it was being built closer to residences.”
A Turning Point for the Village (Developing Arapahoe Station West)
As soon as voters approved funding for the light rail extension along I-25, Greenwood Village city leaders saw an opportunity for light rail to shape the future of City. “Once we knew that light rail was coming to the City with stations at Orchard and Arapahoe Roads, we began to focus on how elements of those areas might look in the future as development or redevelopment took place,” said Mayor Nancy Sharpe. “We needed to know what vision citizens had for the stations. There were many questions, like what city values would be used to help shape development. Also, we had to determine what was physically and economically feasible and how, with some public funding, landowners might be willing to incorporate elements like public spaces and a plaza into their development plans.“
There was little undeveloped land along I -25 for the light rail stations. What were Greenwood Village’s short and long term goals? What was the roadmap to achieve those goals when the City didn’t own the land itself? “This was the most significant issue that occurred at the beginning of my mayoral term” Sharpe noted. “Development around the stations needed to be high quality, pedestrian-friendly gathering places with employment, restaurants and retail. We had to get it right because it would define the City for decades.”
One valuable contribution came from Greenwood Village developers Buz Koelbel and his father, the late Walter Koelbel, Sr. They previously had worked with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and suggested involving this non-profit in developing a process to get suggestions from experts as well as the perspectives of local citizens. The City and ULI sponsored a week long visioning session. This process convened stakeholders to collectively envision how citizens wanted development to occur at what would become the Arapahoe Light Rail Station to enhance the area and add people spaces. “The visioning teams were comprised of experts in various disciplines with knowledge of residential and commercial development, transportation and finance to determine what mix would be best for our community. The Institute helped landowners, city council members and city staff explore various development possibilities,” she explained.
The experts that Urban Land Institute brought included city planners and people with expertise in transit oriented development – the kind of development that would work successfully at transit stops. The experts spent the first two days interviewing individuals with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Regional Transportation District, citizen board members, City Council members, citizens, landowners/stakeholders and business people. The consultants worked at night to develop themes about what they heard and compiled that information into a presentation. On the final day, the ULI consultants presented their findings and recommendations.
City Council members, city staff, stakeholders and citizens attended. Some of their recommendations were not possible, given the realities of property ownership and development that already existed in and around the future stations. “The consultants recommended a roadway ‘grid system’ but Fiddlers Green Circle was already built as a curved road. In addition to buildings already existing on that curve, there wasn’t common land ownership. “I remember thinking that just wasn’t going to be possible,” said Sharpe. “We knew we wanted a vibrant, focal point for our community but needed ULI to help us think critically about how that could be accomplished.”
The visioning session recommended residential development so Nancy Sharpe and Community Development Director George Weaver visited Orange County, California to see a successful, higher density development that included both residential, office and retail components. That information became part of a great deal of information that was presented and discussed at numerous planning meetings.
“In the end, some landowners at the Arapahoe Station on the west side of I-25 were office building and retail developers and residential was not their focus. In addition, citizens near the station did not support higher density residential,” Sharpe explained. While the city did not ultimately adopt many of the ULI recommendations, they helped City Council members and landowners to consider several development scenarios.
Today, there is a restaurant that overlooks a beautiful fountain that greets train riders as they depart from the trains. It is a short walk up some steps to reach a pedestrian plaza with access to office buildings, restaurants, a public plaza and a Jumbotron that gives time and temperature and can promote events. Fiddler’s Green Circle can be used as a large space for events and festivals like the annual Holiday Lighting.
Reflecting back on the process in 2015, Sharpe said: “It took a long time to discuss and debate a variety of ideas. There were many people who brought their ideas to the process. Citizens sometimes got impatient and frustrated because they want to see faster progress. At times it was frustrating for City Council, too. In the end market conditions largely determine what will happen and when it will happen. In my opinion however, the Arapahoe light rail station will be the nicest one along the system. It makes a statement about Greenwood Village,” she noted.
Developing Arapahoe Station East
The next challenge was working with the Colorado Department of Transportation for the best use of the land east of I-25 at the Arapahoe Road light rail station. CDOT owned land next to the highway where they stored sand and trucks for plowing roads. “Greenwood Village offered to find new land for CDOT, but they were not interested in moving from their existing site, no matter what was offered by the City,” Sharpe related.
Ultimately the city paid $6.5 million to combine the RTD parking garage and the maintenance facility into one structure that was built back from the highway. Because of the new location, three acres of valuable, developable land right next to the highway became available for development at no cost to Greenwood Village. The value of that land at the time was about $3 million for the three acres.
“We had to push CDOT; they did not want to move,” Sharpe related. “There were many long meetings and a lot of frustration with CDOT. They had their job to do and so did we. We were pleasant but we were persistent. In the end, both CDOT and RTD were willing to work with us. “
Certificates of Participation (COP) funded the CDOT land purchase and construction of the combined facility. The use of COPs did not require a vote. “The city financed the construction; the investment was very prudent and the certificates* were paid off early,” noted Sharpe. “We knew how important this development was in terms of aesthetics and future development potential. The now open three-acre parcel of land was the gateway to the Koelbel and Company property to the north. For future of development at the Arapahoe Station east side, we did not want the RTD garage to be the first thing pedestrians would reach when they crossed over I-25 from the light rail station to the parking garage.”
Light Rail Upgrades and Changes
The walls along Denver’s light rail tracks and stations are gray concrete. “South of the Denver city boundary, however, we wanted the corridor to have a warmer look and feel, so we selected painted cream-colored concrete walls,” said Sharpe. Also, RTD wanted white Plexiglas covers at the stations along the entire corridor but Greenwood Village worked with other communities down the corridor to again find a different, more distinctive look. Douglas and Arapahoe counties and the cities of Lone Tree and Centennial agreed with Greenwood Village to change the station elements. “Our light rail stations -- at Orchard Road, Arapahoe Road, Dry Creek Road, County Line Road and Lincoln Avenue – are black with a green roof and, in Greenwood Village, we added flagstone accents. It is a more distinctive look that is similar but different from those stations further north. There is also landscaping in each interchange that is different with a quality, finished look,” Sharpe said. The south metro partners also paid to enclose light rail stations with a Plexiglas shield to protect transit riders from the elements; particularly snow that can sometimes blow sideways in the winter.
One difference that the City Council decided to make was to allow signs on individual office buildings at the Village Center. This was a departure from the code that was strictly enforced in other parts of the Denver Tech Center and Greenwood Plaza business areas. City Council agreed that the Arapahoe Light Rail Station should have a different look and feel from other areas in the Village. There wasn’t any residential development initially approved and developed at the Village Center. Sharpe said her personal feeling was that it was good to have people live at Village Center in order to have the day and night vibrancy that was envisioned in early planning discussion. “But other city council members had a different vision of that plan than I did,” Sharpe said.
Three pedestrian overpasses were not included in the T-REX project: at Orchard Road, Dry Creek and Lincoln Avenue. “They were supposed to be built in Phase 2 of the project but because of worry that Phase 2 would never happen, work began with RTD to obtain additional federal funding through Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) that matched other funds from the local governments and metro districts. “Greenwood Village was being proactive,” explained Sharpe. The addition of these three overpasses was one of several changes and improvements initiated along the corridor that would reflect the high standards, the high quality development along the corridor and the desire for light rail to be accessible to as many employees as possible.
Collaboration was Key
One element that made T-REX so successful was collaboration with local metropolitan districts along the I-25 corridor. Many of the districts were organized in the 1960s and 1970s to develop the infrastructure for the Denver Tech Center, Greenwood Plaza and Meridian. Commercial property owners taxed themselves to develop the transportation infrastructure in the area.
These metropolitan districts came together under one umbrella entity now called Southeast Public Improvement Metropolitan District (SPIMD). SPIMD and the City and County of Denver were integral partners to fund the development of improvements along the T-REX corridor. The budget for the entire corridor was $30 million. Denver contributed $15 million and the remaining $15 million was divided among other jurisdictions that would benefit from the transit improvements and SPIMD. The Improvement District pledged $7.5 million of the $15 million while the remaining $7.5 million came from the entities of Greenwood Village, Centennial, Lone Tree, Arapahoe County and Douglas County. “SPIMD was not only a key financial investor,” Sharpe commented. “In addition to contributing half of our share, their in-depth knowledge and understanding of the needs of the business community was invaluable.”
“We were all in it together,” said Nancy Sharpe. “SPIMD and local governments met every two months with project managers from RTD and CDOT to review project spending. I can’t say enough about the collaboration between the business community and local governments – it was so strong. We were at the table, working together every step of the way.”
During the project construction, it was a very competitive process to continue to receive federal funding. If the Denver newspapers reported fighting between Denver area stakeholders, communities in another city like Seattle could go to their congressional delegations to vote to move funding away from the T- REX project. “Any disagreements that developed needed to be worked out among ourselves– not in the press,” Sharpe explained. “Seattle and other communities were competing for the same funding we were getting. That was our mantra. We’re not going to give our competitors any advantages. Although it was not always that kum ba yah, all in all, we worked collaboratively and very well together.”
Mayor Sharpe described one particularly vivid exchange at a meeting. Tom Norton, executive director of CDOT, and Ray Bullock representing SPIMD were two very strong personalities sitting at opposite ends of a long conference table. “They were arguing back and forth about what CDOT should provide funding for on the project. Those of us in the room felt like we were watching a tennis match. At one point Ray got up and left the room. It was a turning point. Ray played the ‘bad’ cop with some of the rest of us coming back later to be the ‘good’ cop. Even though we weren’t certain what decision CDOT would make, they gave in and we won the point to move forward with what our group felt was best for our end of the corridor. Thanks Ray!”
“At a groundbreaking event, we said to Ray and Tom: okay you to have to hug,” Sharpe recalled of Bullock and Norton. “They did and we had a good laugh. There is a picture somewhere to preserve that funny moment.”
This disagreement pointed to the fact that “sometimes things got off track and to get back on track we all had to keep the end goal in mind,” Sharpe explained. “That is what I believe kept us motivated and focused even though the path to get there was not always clear or agreed upon by all. What we did know is that we all wanted and needed a successful T-REX light rail and highway expansion project.”
In the Village, not all development has gone smoothly. One development that had problems was the twin residential tower and retail development known as The Landmark located along Quebec Street just north of the Orchard Light Rail Station on a property owned by Allstate Insurance. “A developer from California, bought the land and came to the City with a proposal,” Sharpe said. He had read the city’s comprehensive plan and proposed mixed-use development that met the tenets of that plan. The proposed development included two residential towers and retail and small businesses on the lower levels.
City Council approved it and demolition began on the site of an old two-story building that needed to be redeveloped. “I liked the proposal because it could attract those people who wanted a little more urban living in a suburban area, Sharpe continued. “I said it was a ‘suburban-urban’ plan because the residential towers were similar to what are in an urban city environment but only 10 stories tall. The plan called for two high-end residential towers, retail, restaurants and businesses wrapping around a parking garage located in the center of the development. Because the developer was selling high-end housing, the parties he hosted were large and extravagant.”
Then in 2009, the economy went into a deep recession and sales dropped off dramatically, particularly in the second tower. There were many people who were trying to downsize from single-family homes, but during this time, they could not sell their homes and their other investments had plummeted. Many properties in the Denver metro area and around the country were significantly impacted by the recession just like this property. The Landmark development went into bankruptcy.
The only good news was that the exteriors of the residential towers and the retail stores were completed so the project didn’t actually look unfinished. Restaurants, a movie theater, and businesses opened successfully. However, most of the second residential tower remained unoccupied and soon the entire project went into bankruptcy. The developer also owned land south of The Landmark across Berry Avenue and intended to put in additional residential development there including townhouses. It was a beautiful plan with brownstone residences and courtyards but that project also went into foreclosure. These properties were part of a metropolitan district that was formed to pay for the development’s infrastructure. The developer misappropriated funds from the metropolitan district and was indicted. Tragically, he committed suicide before being arrested.
When looking into his background as a developer on other projects, nothing indicated unethical conduct. The developer made some very poor decisions. He started to cut corners by switching labels on appliances to make them appear high-end but they were really less expensive models. Quality was also compromised on the construction of the parking garage to save money. Within a few years, water would pour down into lower levels of the garage from leaks above. That all had to be repaired. “The Landmark bankruptcy was probably one of the saddest things I experienced while on Council,” Sharpe said.
When the economy started to rebound several years later, the development began to get back on track. The residential units began to sell and retail and restaurants were busy again. After all was said and done, the development is beautiful and an asset to Greenwood Village.
Maintaining a Rural Focus
In the western part of the city is an area that is called “rural Greenwood.” Residents living there care a great deal about maintaining the rural focus of their area. That includes gravel road and lots of horses and trails to ride on. Residents, however, were asking for a fenced area where a riding ring could be built and horse jumps could be set up.
“We were really lucky that a realtor who lived in rural Greenwood notified me that a piece of property at University and Alexander Lane was going on the market,” Sharpe continued. ” He asked if the city would like to submit an offer to buy it. “The City Council authorized Council member Mike Logan and I to negotiate. We were successful and the city brought the property and built the inner ring and fencing. Neighbors helped finish the equestrian Park over a wonderful work weekend when they brought tractors to haul off branches and brought materials to build the jumps. “
“It was a wonderful collaboration between the city and the neighbors,” she continued. “We made a commitment to not allow parking along Alexander Lane because it is a narrow gravel road. That meant that anyone using the ring had to ride there. This was an important pledge made to residents who wanted to preserve the quite rural nature of their area,” said Sharpe.
Several years before this property was purchased, the city built an underpass following the Highline Canal under University Boulevard between Belleview and Orchard. Former City Councilmember Lyle Case urged that the underpass be built tall enough that someone could ride his or her horse in the underpass without getting off. This underpass meant that people who owned horses on the west side of University Boulevard could safely and easily get to the equestrian park on Alexander. It brought the east and west side equestrian communities together.
One achievement Sharpe is particularly proud of is preserving more land to be included in the Marjorie Perry Nature Preserve. When Koelbel and Company developed The Preserve, there were two home sites inside an area where the Highline Canal forms the shape of a horseshoe. The development plan for The Preserve included building a bridge across the canal in order to access these two home sites. “I thought it was huge mistake to build homes there,” Sharpe explained. “It would have encroached on the wetlands and destroyed the beautiful, natural environment that existed there. I proposed to Buz Koelbel that the city purchase the two home sites so that the land could remain open space. Unfortunately, the property was very expensive. The City did not have the funds to buy the land outright.”
“The City began work with a neutral party -- the Trust for Public Land--to conduct the negotiations and to help find additional funding. The City had some money but needed a lot more; it required a discount on the land and other open space grant dollars. The City applied to Arapahoe County for open space dollars from a countywide open space tax of a quarter cent.”
“We brought Arapahoe County Commissioner Susan Beckman and members of the Open Spaces Advisory Board to tour the property and ask for their support to make the purchase and preservation of this beautiful area possible.” In addition to Arapahoe County Open Space grant dollars, the City received GOCO dollars, which, at the time, were very difficult to get in the Denver metro area. The Trust For Public Land was instrumental in brokering the sale with Koelbel and Company and getting additional grant dollars. “This purchase and the preservation of this natural area was possible because a lot of people got behind it and wanted to make it happen,” Sharpe concluded.
After she became mayor, Sharpe took new City Council members on a bus so they could become familiar with the Marjorie Perry Nature Preserve. “I was personally very proud that we preserved this land for open space. I worked on it for years and am now proud to say that the nature preserve is more than 63-acres and will grow because of the generosity of surrounding landowners. We are careful to monitor activities there so that it stays natural.” As a County Commissioner in 2015, Nancy Sharpe is working to preserve the High Line Canal as a natural amenity. Denver Water plans to divest itself of ownership of the 66-mile canal because it is inefficient and expensive for transporting water due to seepage. It will be long process to ensure that the Highline Canal is preserved as a recreational amenity for hundreds of thousands of people who live within one-quarter mile of the canal in four counties.
Fiddlers Green Amphitheater
In 2006, Greenwood Village annexed the Museum of Outdoor Art and Fiddlers Green amphitheater. “It was an island of unincorporated land in the city,” Sharpe noted. “Now the City has the ability to work with them on noise, not just on behalf of Greenwood Village but for other neighbors. We regulate the hours of concerts and noise levels. It is important for our quality of life.”
When the economy took a nosedive in 2009, many cities had staff layoffs or furloughs. This was not the case in Greenwood Village. “We could not give pay raises, but there were no layoffs or furloughs. City Council and staff did an outstanding job of looking for opportunities to save money and manage the budget conservatively. Patience and understanding by staff during those difficult times was appreciated,” Sharpe said.
“We had a savings account-- a rainy day fund -- and did not raise taxes. I’m proud that we were successful weathering the downturn, maintaining a high level of service and quality of life while being sensitive to the needs of outstanding employees.”
Greenwood Village has many acres of natural habitat where wildlife live, including coyotes. Although most wildlife have adapted to life inside city limits, there have been situations where coyotes have lost their natural fear of humans and become aggressive. In the spring of 2007, a coyote stalked and then lunged at a young person as he walked to a bus stop. Although there were many incidents of coyotes attacking dogs, killing cats and stalking humans, this incident became a catalyst for addressing the need to deal with aggressive coyote behavior.
“I felt strongly that public safety was the most important thing government provides. Since we knew aggressive coyotes were out there, if we did nothing and someone was seriously injured, we would not have done our job as elected officials in Greenwood Village,” Sharpe explained. The City received a permit from Tri-County Health Department to trap coyotes. A total of four coyotes were trapped and euthanized. An organization called Wild Earth Guardians got angry and started to tamper with the traps. Members of the group began to interfere with operations to find and remove the aggressive coyotes, putting themselves and others in dangerous situations.
In order to help keep people, pets and wildlife safe, Greenwood Village began an initiative to educate the community. “We explained that coyotes live in many of the open spaces in the City and, in most cases, exist in harmony with people. An important part of the active campaign was to educate residents not to leave food outside, and how to respond if approached by a coyote. We were fortunate to have the Colorado Division of Wildlife help us with educating our citizens as well as how to deal with aggressive coyotes.”
As of 2015, Greenwood Village has not needed to trap additional coyotes. Problems with coyotes do still exist, including coyote attacks on dogs and cats in backyards. Greenwood Village has continued its program of educating the public about how best to deal with these incidents.
State of the Village
Nancy Sharpe inaugurated the State of the Village address in the fall 2009. “It was right before the downturn,” she recalled. “We had many accomplishments to talk about as well as our vision for light rail and open space purchases. It was an opportunity to talk about transportation.” The State of the Village is not an annual event. Sharpe did two during her eight years as mayor.
Mayor Ron Rakowsky Era: 2011-present
Bringing the Village Center to Life
The Colorado economy had improved significantly by the time Ron Rakowsky was appointed by City Council unanimously to succeed Nancy Sharpe as mayor on January 3, 2011. Many projects that had been on hold when the economy was lagging could now be addressed. Businesses could not get loans after the downturn. Another roadblock was a lack of water and sewer taps in the southwest part of the city. Mayor Ron Rakowsky said he led a “war party” of south metro elected officials to a board meeting of the Southgate Water and Sanitation District to change their policies and facilitate development. Included in the delegation were Centennial Mayor Kathy Noon, Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning as well as former Arapahoe County Commissioner John Brackney, who was then president of the South Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“It was not a matter of water supply,” Rakowsky explained. “The District had not built the infrastructure commensurate to serve development for what was on the drawing boards for Lone Tree, Centennial and Greenwood Village.” Faced with this united front, the district board voted to expand its infrastructure to accommodate all the new development.
Part of Mayor Rakowsky’s emphasis on economic development stems from his involvement with the Denver Southeast Economic Development partnership. He serves with the mayors of Lone Tree and Centennial and with commissioners from Arapahoe and Douglas County. The partnership staff is active in reaching out to prospective businesses. Greenwood Village’s mayor is part of a “strike team” that calls on businesses. Cities and counties in the metro area have an agreement not to poach businesses from other cities, which enables the city leaders to work collaboratively to bring new business from outside of metro Denver.
This outreach and the economic recovery have led to $230 million in construction in Greenwood Village that was either on the drawing boards or coming out of the ground during 2014 and 2015. New commercial projects completed in 2014 or under construction in 2015 include the Landmark Medical office building, First Citizens Bank and AMG Bank. Shea Properties began construction of the second of three buildings of their Village Center Station development located adjacent to I-25 at the Village Center light rail station.
This north building is the corporate headquarters for CoBank and will include 11 floors, 276,000 square feet and structured parking for 1,000 vehicles. In addition, Shea Properties revealed the design for a new major public plaza expansion at the Village Center station development. The new plaza, featuring a dancing water fountain choreographed to music and light, will be a focal point in the region that will attract residents, employees and visitors and enhance the Village Center.
Also, the City Council approved the development of the Westin Greenwood Village at the Arapahoe at Village Center Station. This six-story hotel will include 203 hotel rooms and suites, a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, meeting space, swimming pool, and underground parking. Westin Greenwood Village is the first five-star hotel in the south Denver area.
Among large companies moving into town are: CoBank and National Bank Holdings. CoBank is the largest bank headquartered in the state with $101 billion in assets. CoBank bought another bank in Kansas City and the merged bank was looking for a new location in Colorado. Their customers are rural electric co-ops, phone systems and agricultural loans. “Denver was competing and the present headquarters was already in Greenwood Village,” Rakowsky explained. “The bank was being aggressively courted and we won.” CoBank is employee-owned so quality of life was a major factor in the decision. There will be 700 employees at build out.
The mayor was also instrumental in getting National Bank Holdings to relocate to Greenwood Village from Boston. Their subsidiary, Community Banks of Colorado, is part of a $7 billion company that is moving into the old Metropolitan Club space on Orchard Road.
Annexation Completes Village Center
During 2014-15, Mayor Rakowsky worked to bring an enclave of commercial property adjacent to the Village Center into the City. Using a provision of state law that applies to property substantially surrounded by a city, Greenwood Village annexed two commercial office buildings at the southeast corner of Greenwood Plaza Boulevard and Peakview Avenue. “The annexation actually benefitted the owners of the two office buildings,” Rakowsky noted, “because they were able to cut their tax bill while getting better service because our police department already serves the area.” The annexation added valuable property to the city’s tax base and fulfilled the comprehensive plan regarding commercial development in the Village Center.
One new development that encountered some bumps in the road was the Koelbel property that faces Yosemite along the east side of Interstate 25. The comprehensive plan called for housing units in the Village Center area. The area east of I-25 was designated as mixed-use – commercial and retail. Koelbel requested 325 apartments in the development. There was significant opposition from the neighbors east of Yosemite, including Sundance Valley and Sundance Hills. “The Council chambers were filled. Neighbors lined up to testify against the apartments, due to the impact on traffic and the schools. The two schools in the area are bursting at the seams,” Rakowsky commented.
One issue raised by opponents was the desire for a prior role in such developments. The city now sends first-class mail to neighbors likely to be affected by major developments. At the hearing, former mayor and current Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Sharpe testified in favor of including the apartments because adding residential to the Village Center is one way to encourage vibrancy of the area after business hours. “If the proposal had been to add million-dollar single-family homes, it would probably not have been a problem,” Rakowsky said candidly.
Greenwood Village hired John Jackson as its new police chief in 2011 after a national search. “Chief Jackson has been exceptionally proactive in crime prevention,” said Rakowsky. He is involved with the state police chiefs association, serving as their president in 2014-2015. He has been a leader in the regulation of marijuana. Jackson has spoken nationally on the subject, including a segment on 60 Minutes.
Greenwood Village was the first city to pass a marijuana ordinance, prohibiting recreational shops or facilities. The city also prohibits medical marijuana sales. However, possession that is authorized under state law is permitted. The city has enacted restrictive ordinances that prohibit extraction of oil from marijuana plants. Rakowsky explained that the risk with home growing is that reducing the plants to get the oil for edibles creates a public safety issue due to the likelihood of home explosions and fires. There was a fire near Greenwood Village from an individual who was growing plants in the basement. Firefighters on the first floor escaped just before the floor collapsed.
Greenwood Village has been aggressive in enforcing use of large weight trucks on city streets. Mayor Rakowsky proposed doubling the fine that municipal courts can charge for violations of the overweight truck law from $1,000-$2,400. The mayor enlisted Cherry Hills Village Mayor Doug Tisdale to testify before the legislature with him about the importance of strengthening this enforcement tool for municipal courts. The Colorado Municipal League also helped in the effort to get this fine increased. Rakowsky has been active in the Metro Mayors Caucus and the Denver Regional Council of Governments. This has helped him build relationships to lobby for important safety reforms.
Protecting the Earth and its Creatures
Several important actions in 2014 helped preserve open space in Greenwood Village and ensure the health of one it the City’s most beloved parks.
In May 2014, the City Council adopted the Huntington-Caley Corridor Open Space Master Plan. The Huntington-Caley Corridor consists of 15-acres of open space east of Yosemite Street at Caley Avenue, which includes the site of the former Onslager and Metro Church of God properties purchased by the Village in 1998 and 1999. The parcels were rezoned to open space by City Council in 2001. The corridor also includes Huntington Park and the Caley Pond Open Space. The master planning process included extensive public input through several public meeting as well as review and approval by the Parks Trails, and Recreation Commission.
The vision for the corridor is to provide passive park uses and enhance the natural aesthetic of the site. The intent is not to provide a “typical” open space property but rather to develop a park with a natural character. This approach is conducive to the site’s surroundings and context of the parks located both upstream and downstream along Goldsmith Gulch.
Some plan elements that are integral to the vision and recreational use of the site include: several trails, a pedestrian underpass, braided gardens, informal lawn and natural play area; earthen berms and landscaping as screening; sculpted land forms, seating areas, a wetland boardwalk, an entry feature, Fair Avenue cul-de-sac, and a 12-space parking lot. The majority of the park will be restored as natural area using dryland grasses, shrubs and trees. The project has been divided into phases and the total estimated cost of construction was $5,847,500.
Westlands Park Water Supply Improves
Westlands Park gained a higher quality water supply in 2014, thanks to a transfer and irrigation agreement between Greenwood Village, Greenwood Plaza Water District and the Greenwood Metropolitan District. Through the agreement, the Village received property adjacent to Westlands Park, including a series of ponds that supply the Water District’s Well System. The Village can use up to 40 acre-feet per year of non-potable ground water from the District’s well system rather than relying on stormwater that runs off of the adjacent commercial areas.
In order to use the new water source, the middle "dolphin" pond was converted to an irrigation storage pond and a new pumping station was built west of the pond to distribute the water to the irrigation system. Although the pond will look similar to park users, it is anticipated that the turf will look even better with the improved water quality with which it is irrigated.
Terrace Park in Denver Tech Center
An island of green space in the commercial section of the Denver Technological Center (DTC) was preserved as a park, due to collaboration between Greenwood Village and two partners. In February 2014, the Village and the Goldsmith Metropolitan District were awarded a $600,000 Arapahoe County Open Space Grant for the acquisition of 5.36 acres. The Terrace Tower parcel sits between two office buildings in the DTC area of Greenwood Village. The parcel, initially on the market for commercial development, will be preserved as open space as a result of a joint effort between Arapahoe County, Greenwood Village, and the Goldsmith Metropolitan District. All partners contributed $600,000 toward the purchase of the property totaling $1.8 million.
“The commitment of the three partners, who recognize the value in preserving open space, was vital to protect this land from development in the DTC,” said Mayor Ron Rakowsky. “Now the property can be maintained as open space and enjoyed by the many employees and residents who work and live in the area.”
The Terrace Tower parcel is located between I-25 and DTC Parkway, north of West Ulster Circle. The Goldsmith Metropolitan District purchased the property in December 2013 in an effort to ensure the property would remain as open space and maintain a vital trail connection from the DTC to the Orchard Light Rail Station.
Connecting Three Westside Parks
The second parcel, in the rural portion of Greenwood Village, contained 4.16 acres of undeveloped land at 6969 East Prentice Avenue in the Greenwood Hills neighborhood. This acquisition completed an open space-buffering corridor from Monaco Park on the northwest to Running Fox Park on the southeast and Westlands Park on the south. Greenwood Village obtained a $250,000 grant from Arapahoe County Open Space that required matching funds from the Village of $251,800. With this investment, the Village was able to ensure this land would never be commercially developed. It also enhanced a passive area for neighbors and trail users. These two purchases brought the total amount of open space in the Village to more than 180 acres for current and future generations to enjoy.
In the Marjorie Perry Nature Preserve, the Village added stepping stones to the gulch and creek to increase safety for horses and people crossing the creek.
Mayor Increases Community Engagement
In an effort to make city government truly accessible, Mayor Rakowsky takes a walk in two parks on opposite sides of the Village every month. The “Ramble with Ron” occurs in Tommy Davis Park at 7:30 am on a weekday. The “ramble” occurs in Westlands Park on another weekday. By 2015, the mayor had been conducting his moving town hall for four years. “People can bring up any issue as we walk along. Usually it is park and neighborhood issues,” Rakowsky said. I get 3 to 5 people.” Instead of having office hours at City Hall, “I’m very touchable in the community.”
The mayor hand-delivers each of the city’s 104 liquor licenses to retailers in Greenwood Village each year. The mayor says its one way to demonstrate the Village is business-friendly and that the city views it as a partnership. “I arrive like a customer and get a feel for what is going on,” Rakowsky explains. “I tell them I’m their business partner… We get 3% off the top. It’s called a sales tax,” he said, grinning. The second part of the speech reminds the owner that the liquor license is a privilege, not a right. That it is important not to serve alcohol to minors.
Greenwood Village University
A new community engagement initiative in 2015 is Greenwood Village University (GVU), an 8-week program that allows residents an opportunity to learn about city government in greater depth. The first annual GVU engaged nearly 16 residents. Staff from various departments informed and entertained residents with demonstrations, presentations and powerful question-and-answer sessions.
It was popular with residents and the opportunity for enhanced communication was beneficial to staff, so the decision was made to make it an annual program.
“I signed up for GVU to learn more about the specific components of our local government and to become a more engaged and active member of the community,” said Bryan Zerr, Village resident. “I loved meeting the Department Directors and staff presenters who made course material come to life through human experience.”
During Greenwood Village University, held from February 28 through April 10, the sessions covered a variety of subjects. The first session kicked off the program with an overview of the political and management structure of the Village during which Mayor Ron Rakowsky and City Manager Jim Sanderson explained the Village’s local government structure and its system of checks and balances.
“I enjoyed this class,” said Cindy Albi. “It was great interaction with the city manager and mayor who were there to speak to us.”
“We are pleased with the success of our first annual Greenwood Village University,” said Mayor Ron Rakowsky. “For residents, this program is an excellent forum to learn about the city where you live, and develop an understanding of how the Village truly operates and all the work done behind the scenes that contributes to the quality of life in Greenwood Village.”
In another session, the Community Development Department explained issues and procedures involved in land development and building construction. Then, Parks, Trails and Recreation provided participants with a glimpse of services that promote opportunities for fun and leisure experiences in the Village, beginning with a group tour of the Curtis Arts & Humanities Center to learn about art and culture.
“Virtually everyone would love this program,” said Donna Johnston. “Who wouldn’t want to go to the Curtis Arts Center and learn about the programs it offers people of all ages? Who wouldn’t want to climb onto one of the gigantic public works trucks? Who wouldn’t want to see our police department showcase its canine enforcement capabilities? It was so much fun, participants didn’t want to leave at the end of the night!”
Participants continued their GVU experience with a visit with Public Works at the Village Maintenance Facility where they had the opportunity to climb on a street sweeper and snowplow, learn how the Village manages traffic through a centralized control system, and witness the technology behind how roads are maintained.
“The presentations were very good,” added Albi. “Every speaker is passionate about their jobs, and ended their presentation with “why we do it,” which was very informative as a resident.”
One of the benefits of each session was citizens were able to ask questions and interact with Village staff such as during the presentation with officers of the Police Department. Residents received a comprehensive, behind the scenes look at specialized and tactical services provided to keep the Village safe, including the 9-1-1 Center and the K-9 Unit. Internal departments, such as Finance and Administrative Services, that don’t have as much interaction with Village residents, presented an evening full of information on how they support all departments and employees with information, technology, and financial resources.
“The program was role-model perfect,” added Johnston. “I was particularly impressed with the Village employees’ expertise, professionalism, performance measurements and eagerness to provide quality service. Greenwood Village could definitely be used as a role model for other towns, not just in Colorado, but throughout the country.”
The last educational session included a question and answer session on how residents can get more involved and participate in meaningful ways in their local government, followed by a hands-on exercise in media relations. The final evening concluded with a graduation ceremony and dinner with the Mayor and City Council. All participants were given a key to the Village.
“I have always felt proud of being a Greenwood Village citizen, but my attendance at GVU heightened that sense of pride to a level of ambassador of the City,” added Zerr.
Future sessions of Greenwood Village University will be held in the first quarter of each year.
“I felt proud to be a Greenwood Village resident before the program; now I’m boasting about it,” added Johnston.
Maintenance Center Expands
One major investment in infrastructure in the Village was an $8 million expansion of the Maintenance Center on Costilla Avenue east of Interstate 25. The city purchased surplus land owned by US West in 2013 and construction was done in 2014-15. The expansion provided “carports for trucks” and more indoor work areas for the sign shop and painting. The construction increased energy efficiency and improved workflow. The existing maintenance facility was quite cramped with things “sitting on top of each other,” Mayor Rakowsky explained. Now, employees will not have to move trucks around to work on those needing maintenance.
Progress on Arapahoe Road and I-25 Interchange Project
Improvements to the Arapahoe Road and I-25 Interchange moved forward in 2014 with design and construction of the interchange. This project--led by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), in partnership with the cities of Centennial and Greenwood Village, the Southeast Public Improvement Metro District, and Arapahoe County--consists of design and replacement of the existing I-25 bridge over Arapahoe Road, implementation of the improved cloverleaf interchange, and other improvements to the interchange that will reduce congestion and improve traffic operations and safety. Construction is anticipated to begin in 2016 and be completed in 2017.
CDOT’s Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships (RAMP) funding program as well as federal and local entities will provide the funding for this project. RAMP funding is estimated to be $50.4 million, with Federal Highway Administration and local entities providing matching funds for a total of $68 million for construction. Previously, money has been provided for environmental study and concept review. Arapahoe County, the City of Centennial, the City of Greenwood Village and the Southeast Public Improvement Metropolitan District will provide the local matching funds.
High-Profile retailers choose Greenwood Village
Greenwood Village is surrounded by other cities so there will be no major annexations in the future. Instead, the financial health of the city depends on quality developments on existing land. The strategy is to keep the Village friendly to businesses through infrastructure improvements like the light rail stations and recruitment of businesses that residents and others in the metro area want to patronize. Nationally and globally recognized retailers that now have an official address in Greenwood Village include Trader Joe’s, Sierra Trading Post (outdoor clothing), Pharmica, Dunkin Donuts, Nekter Juice Bar, Monkey Sports, and Espresso Americano.
One bit of excitement occurred at a Starbucks on Arapahoe Road while the Broncos were on their winning streak in 2014-15. Quarterback Peyton Manning stopped at a Starbucks on his way to Dove Valley and started signing autographs. “The police heard about a big traffic jam at Boston Street and Arapahoe Road,” said the mayor. They discovered the cause was the popular player and it resolved itself when Manning went on his way.
Russian Journalists Visit Greenwood Village
Six Russian journalists visited the Greenwood Village Mayor and City Council at a November 2015 City Council Study Session. They were guests of the U.S. Department of State through the Institute of International Education’s Open World Program and first time visitors to the United States. The journalists and their translator were from across Russia, including St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kirov, and Chelyabinsk. Their professional specialties included work in television, radio broadcast, newspaper and online media. The journalists are a generation after the fall of the Soviet Union, and have found themselves in positions of authority early on because the generations before them were from the era of state-controlled media. This generation defines what it means to be a free press in Russia.
“We were honored to have Bob Sweeney--founder of the Villager Newspaper and one of the first American journalists to visit the Soviet Union after Glasnost--participate in our Council meeting,” said Mayor Ron Rakowsky.
During the visit, the mayor spoke, through a translator, to the journalists about how local government in Greenwood Village is structured, the process by which democracy works in the community and how the media plays a role in how the Village communicates with citizens. “It was an enlightening experience for both City Council and me to share and learn from these aspiring young men and women,” the mayor said.
The Open World Program began in the 1960s and is designed to broaden understanding about the United States among the future leaders of countries across the world. Young leaders are selected by their own countries for one or two week educational programs focused on a variety of topics. Their visit begins in Washington, D.C. for briefings, and depending upon their program topic area, they move on to Denver, New York City, or San Francisco. Denver is one of the cities chosen because we have a well-developed family-host organization and because of our broad civic, economic and social progress.
By 2015, Greenwood Village had passed its 65th anniversary as a City providing services to citizens. Mayor Rakowsky was asked what he saw for the Village in the future.
“I see the push-pull of developers and commercial land-owners who want to build up while some Village residents will object because of their concern about traffic,” Mayor Rakowsky reflected. “Only time will tell whether those concerns will bear fruit.”
The goal is balanced development. “We need revenue to support City services without raising taxes,” he explained. “We need a pay structure and talent structure to get and retain the great people who lead our departments and those plowing streets and young patrol officers working at three in the morning.”
In the meantime, the Mayor and City Council members, along with department directors and city staff, will work to provide citizens the maximum amount of services within available revenues. Both Nancy Sharpe and Ron Rakowsky paid tribute to the wise stewardship of City Manager Jim Sanderson and the creativity of City staff for the Village’s ability to navigate the region’s severe economic downturn in 2008- 2010 without having to lay off staff or cut services, and maintain the city’s quality of life with the offering of quality programs and services, including exceptional customer service provided to citizens.
Today, the Village economy is growing with new development and redevelopment on the horizon and residents and businesses of Greenwood Village seem to be pleased with the overall quality of life of the residential and business areas of the Village. Here is to the future - Greenwood Village! May our community continue to prosper and remain one of the most desired places to live and work in the state and country.