The fate of 59 undeveloped acres near the Federal Center in Lakewood is being considered by the Department of Health and Human Services after the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless submitted an …
The fate of 59 undeveloped acres near the Federal Center in Lakewood is being considered by the Department of Health and Human Services after the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless submitted an application on Dec. 26 to take ownership of the property.
The department has 10 days from the 26th to review the application, and if approved, the coalition has a further 45 days to submit a full plan, which would include everything from uses of the land to a financial plan to pay for the land, and to develop it.
“Things are still up in the air while we wait to hear what the final determination will be,” said Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy with the coalition, which advocates for and provides a continuum of housing and a variety of services — such as medical treatment and child care services — to improve the health, well-being and stability of homeless residents. “It’s a process that’s moving fast, and until we know more, it’s hard to provide specific answers. But, by mid January, we should know more.”
In the meantime, coalition staff are starting outreach to the city. They’ve met with Mayor Adam Paul and the councilmembers for the ward the property is in — Ward 1’s Ramey Johnson and Charley Able.
If the application is denied, the coalition will consider an appeal through the courts.
“It’s important to remember that this is a completely Federal government process that the City of Lakewood has no control over,” Paul said. “I encourage residents to be aware of this, and reach out to the coalition to share your thoughts on the project as more information is released.”
While the final plans are still in the works, the coalition is looking at temporary housing options for homeless people on the site, which could include FEMA-style trailers. Looking down the road, the organization would like to build 500 to 600 permanent affordable housing units on the site, Alderman added.
“There are serious issues that need be considered, including the impact on area schools, and security,” Johnson said. “There also may need to be serious remediation of the land before it can be safely used.”
The coalition filed the injunction against the General Services Administration (GSA), which owns the land, on July 25, asking the court to halt the sale until the GSA provided U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) all the details of the property, and gave HUD a chance to determine if the land could be used for homeless services.
The injunction was filed under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which requires federal agencies to identify and make available surplus federal property, such as buildings and land, for use by states, local governments and nonprofit agencies to assist homeless people.
On Sept. 25, HUD released a letter announcing that the land could be used for homeless services, and ordered the GSA to cancel its site auction. The auction, which opened in May, had been scheduled to close on July 27.
Since the whole process is a part of strict federal procedure, the coalition is hemmed in by some of the regulations. For instance, they have to develop a plan that uses the entire 59 acres — it has to be all or nothing. Regulations also don’t allow for much in the way of mixed used development.
“We’d like to see a mix of incomes and housing options, but that is going to require looking at the law and seeing if there’s room for interpretations that allow it,” Alderman said. “We don’t want to concentrate poverty in just one area.”
The 59 acres are zoned Mixed-Use Core Transit (M-C-T), which allows for high-density residential and retail. The land was originally intended for the city of Lakewood to take ownership of, in exchange for building a new laboratory for the Federal Center, which houses 28 agencies in 44 buildings. The agreement was first put forth in October 2015, but residents’ concern over a lack of information and time to do the necessary groundwork led to negotiations ending in January 2016.
Johnson was one of the councilmembers who expressed concern about the city’s plan at the time, but admitted this future is not the one she envisioned for the property.
“Because off all the build-out we’ve seen in the city, it would’ve been nice if it could’ve been turned into a park or open space,” she said. “Whatever it becomes, it needs to be something everyone has buy in on.”
Paul, who was one of the Ward 4 councilmembers when the city’s plan was put forth supported the plan, and said that while he supports the coalition’s overall mission, he can’t support this use for the 59 acres.
“I was asked if I could submit a letter of support as part of the coalition’s application process, but this isn’t something I can support,” he said. “A project of this scale needs way more community support, and this isn’t the highest and best use of the land.”
City Manager Kathy Hodgson said the city will continue to encourage the coalition to provide as much information as possible to the city and residents as it becomes available.
The coalition is aware there is hesitancy from the area, and many questions about the project, and if they are awarded the land, they will be hosting public meetings and town halls to get input and answer questions. Their goal is to be as transparent as possible, Alderman said.
“This is such a huge opportunity for Lakewood and the Jeffco area,” she added. “It would give us an opportunity to do what we’re good at — provide housing for folks who have been marginalized. The fact that we might be able to help families in need is extremely motivating for us.”