Residents of Elitch, Colorado feel they were handed a classic bait-and-switch. Instead of getting a village-style retail development consistent with the surrounding community, neighbors are now confronted with a proposed Wal-Mart “neighborhood” market nearly the size of a football field. Here is the front line account of what residents are doing about it: “Highlands Gardens Village (HGV) is the historic site of Elitch Gardens and was developed to be a community conforming to the concepts of “new urbanism”. It was to contain single family residents, row/town homes, live/work condominiums supporting owner occupied entrepreneurial businesses, market-rate and low-income residential rental apartments housed in six-plex units as well as small retail businesses. This multi-use site would revolve around some of the historic structures of the original Elitch site. The old Elitch Theater was to be renovated and would serve as a cultural hub for the community. The original Elitch carousel was to be renovated and become a location for picnicing and neighborhood outdoor functions. All of these were to be provided with adequate and non-concentrated,. tree-separated parking in a pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined, park-like environment. In early March of 2004, neighborhood residents found out that the property developer, Perry-Rose, was in the final stages of negotiation to sell a major portion land slated for small businesses within (HGV), to Wal-Mart for occupancy by one of their neighborhood markets – a grocery store/pharmacy of some 39,000 square feet. Our contact with the residents of Highland Gardens Village and of the surrounding neighborhoods reveals that the overwhelming feeling is that no form of Wal-Mart store is in keeping with the spirit of the neighborhood, nor does it resemble in any way what the developer “sold” to the long time residents and to the new buyers of property in HGV. Residents of Denver’s West Highlands neighborhoods gave voice to concerns regarding inappropriate development of HGV when the property was first slated for development in the 1994-1996 timeframe. They specifically brought up the fact that they opposed the use of the retail space by major discount chains and by large-pad stores – Wal-Mart was specifically mentioned as being unacceptable. All were assured by both city government officials and by the developer that their fears were unfounded. Jonathan Rose – a partner in the development company – was quoted as saying “we are forgoing the traditional retail anchor in favor of the cultural anchor provided by the old Elitch Theater.” The original site plans, upon which the residents based their approval of land development and upon which new buyers based their home buying decisions, showed a number of small businesses and touted support of family oriented and entrepreneurial efforts in keeping with the best free-market ideals. Retail spaces were to have been of 18,000 square foot or less in size. A number of live/work condominiums were also specified and would allow small entrepreneurs to start up new businesses in a space where they could also live. Parking would not be concentrated to large paved sections but would be spread out among tree separated areas in a pedestrian-friendly manner.”
For more information on the effort to stop Wal-Mart’s un-neighborly project in Elitch, email the group at [email protected] This is just one effort in a growing movement against Wal-Mart’s invasion of Colorado. Search also stories about Thornton and Arvada on Newsflash.