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Connecting the West Corridor Communities: An Implementation Strategy for TOD along the Denver Region’s West Corridor

Executive Summary

Light rail in the West Corridor presents an incredible opportunity for transit-oriented development to leverage market momentum for new investment and community building. A focus on TOD will support growth near new transit sta­tions, enhance access to opportunity, preserve and enhance the supply of a range of housing choices, reduce the combined costs of housing and transportation, and support walking and biking to stations. However, implementing TOD along the West Corridor will not be a quick or simple process. The overall economic conditions in the country are vastly impacting the pace and magnitude of private sector development activity everywhere. This macro-level challenge, combined with some micro-market conditions along the West Corridor, where residential home values are relatively low and the potential value increases related to transit have not yet been realized, indicates that in the near term, most implementation activity in the West Corridor will fall to public agencies.

Fortunately, four public partners in the West Corridor – the Cities of Denver and Lakewood, the Denver Housing Authority and Metro West Housing Solutions – recognize the opportunity for TOD and necessity of a corridor-wide partnership. The West Corridor Working Group (WCWG) coalesced around the objective to create a TOD implementation strategy for the corridor. These public agencies will be the leading public-sector agencies to initiate TOD activities in the corri­dor. By laying the foundation now through activities such as adopting appropri­ate policies and investing in high value catalytic projects, the WCWG can ensure that over time and as the market matures, the overall value of new private invest­ment will ultimately surpass the public investment.

This report, funded by the West Corridor Working Group, provides a compre­hensive summary of relevant information for TOD and strategies for implement­ing successful in the West Corridor. The Center for Transit-Oriented Develop­ment (CTOD) examined the fourteen station area plans as well as demographic, economic and real estate conditions at each station and throughout the West Corridor. Based on the demographics, economics, real estate conditions, the station areas were organized into three types of categories for implementation as transformational, intensification and infill stations. CTOD provides recommen­dations to the WCWG for moving from vision in the station area plans to reality in the corridor.

The implementation process differs depending on the condition of the real estate market in a particular location. In a cooler market, it is especially important that the WCWG continue to exhibit leadership by intervening with public-sector sup­port for infrastructure and amenities. In hotter market locations, there will be less need for the public sector to intervene initially, but it can assist with the fi nancing of infrastructure and amenities that make a location attractive to TOD.

Key Implementation Strategies

The report includes detailed findings on real estate market, population and households, employment, transportation, infrastructure, community resources and parks and recreation. The implementation strategies respond to the goals identified by the WCWG and can be implemented by at both the corridor scale and station levels. Th e station-specific strategies are unique to the type of station context and needs. Corridor-level strategies require continued commitment and participation by the WCWG and must, in the long term, be paired with similar strategies for each individual station area. Achieving TOD success in the West Corridor will require ongoing proactive identification of barriers to development and efforts by WCWG members, including the cities, to work either together or separately to remove those barriers. There are some overarching findings that are illustrated in the report:

The Cities have provided a great foundation for TOD in the West Corridor. The Cities of Denver and Lakewood, as well as the General Services Administra­tion (GSA), have already laid the groundwork for TOD along the West Corridor with their station area planning efforts. Collectively, there are fourteen completed station area or commercial corridor planning efforts that together create a vi­sion for TOD along the West Corridor. A tremendous amount of staff time and resources has been dedicated to creating and adopting these station area plans. Residents, property owners, businesses and elected officials have also invested time in public meetings, workshops and hearings on the planning efforts. Both cities have reformed their zoning codes to allow for higher density, mixed-use develop­ment within station areas and in some cases, rezoned station areas with the new zoning to support TOD.

The West Corridor Working Group can play a significant role in facilitat­ing successful TOD. To a large extent, the WCWG will take the lead on the visioning and coordinating role for development in the West Corridor. In private land development, the developer creates value by establishing a long-term vision for a development site, seeks the entitlements necessary to permit this vision to be built, and provides the major infrastructure necessary to support the future development. Developers often work well ahead of the market and take on a high degree of risk in order to reap a return. By taking on this risk the developer is removing barriers for subsequent development activities. The WCWG can address some of the risk and more quickly facilitate private investment by leading the vi­sioning and coordinating activities, applying appropriate zoning, providing some necessary infrastructure and removing some of the policy and implementation barriers to future development.

Station areas in the West Corridor are unique and have diff erent oppor­tunities and needs to support TOD. Each of the light rail station areas has a different context and unique attributes. Combined, these stations off er some rich and wonderful amenities as well as connections to some major employment, education and entertainment destinations. However, the West Corridor lacks the strong identity that other corridors in the Denver region enjoy. The diversity of stations and the collective corridor needs to be celebrated and promoted so that it is viewed as an attractive place to live, work and play.

The cities, housing authorities, RTD, DRCOG, GSA, and other stakehold­ers are working hard to support TOD in the West Corridor. Given the numerous activities and multiple stakeholders, more inter-agency coordination and stakeholder collaboration will maximize the leveraging of resources to support TOD. Most stakeholders share the same objectives but they play diff erent roles and provide different expertise. More formal coordination will help expedite the visions of TOD in the station area plans in the West Corridor.

Key Recommendations

A tremendous amount of work has been accomplished by the local jurisdic­tions along the corridor. The station area and community based plans identify the visions for change at the station areas. The corridor is far ahead of the curve compared to many other places – both regionally and nationally – with expand­ing transit systems. Additional implementation activities and commitments from the local jurisdictions, region and state will accelerate private investment in the corridor. The following are some of the key recommendations to move the plans from vision to reality:

  • Create a permanent West Corridor Collaborative. A formalized partner­ship will ensure regular meetings and a commitment to the TOD implemen­tation strategies. In addition, The WCWG should engage new partners in the implementation activities of the West Corridor such as RTD, DRCOG, ULI and the business improvement districts (BIDs) to embrace the vision and actions to implement TOD in the corridor. There should also be a public process on corridor planning and information sharing that includes co-hosted corridor-wide workshops.
  • Develop a marketing and branding plan to market and promote the West Corridor. A branding and marketing process would help create an identity for the West Corridor in order to generate interest among potential retail, commercial and residential developers, and to attract the public to the West Corridor as a place to live, work and play. In addition, West Cor­ridor Working Group participants should promote the WCWG process and technical work through attendance and presentations conferences, speaking engagements and peer exchanges.
  • Complete the “last mile” of critical bicycle and pedestrian connections. The WCWG and other partners should collectively work on planning and funding comprehensive bike and pedestrian connections in the corridor. Th ey should jointly explore joint funding opportunities to complete the bicycle system and pedestrian connections.
  • Develop an affordable housing strategy for both preservation and new production. Work with WCWG partners and others involved with aff ord­able housing in the region to develop an affordable housing plan. The plan should focus on transition of some existing housing stock in all station areas from private market ownership to another structure that would permanently preserve affordable housing; identify targeted opportunities for additional new affordable housing; evaluate possible strategies for expanding the Denver TOD Fund to the entire West Corridor; and evaluate various HUD programs to demonstrate ways that they could be modified to better support aff ord­able housing near transit by adding proximity to transit in HUD’s evaluation criteria.
  • Prioritize the Federal Center, Oak and the Federal/Decatur Stations re­spectively as high priority stations with transformational opportunities. Lakewood and Denver should each establish an interdisciplinary team of key leads to work together on the short term and longer term redevelopment opportunities at these three key stations by looking at infrastructure, market, demographic and community challenges.
  • Continue to support infrastructure improvements at Oak, Garrison, Wadsworth and Lamar. Facilitate TOD supportive infrastructure including bike and pedestrian connections. Funding for new infrastructure including utilities should be explored through the city’s capital budget, special districts and future HUD/DOT community challenge and TIGER II grants.
  • Collaborate on an implementation plan at Sheridan. Given the signifi ­cant infrastructure and transit changes at Sheridan, the Denver and Lake-wood planning, parks and public works staff at the cities should collaborate to develop an integrated plan for TOD implementation at the station.
  • Develop some small-scale strategies for the Knox and Perry stations. Denver should support the redevelopment of existing aff ordable housing by preserving those developments due to expire in the coming years and by acquiring land for additional affordable, senior, or student housing. Th e city should also look at improvements to the pedestrian and bicycle network and leverage the activities planned for this area as part of the Denver’s Commu­nity Challenge/TIGER II grant.
  • Emphasize Colfax as the retail corridor in both cities. Continue to focus on Colfax as the retail corridor in both cities with strong physical and visual connections from the West Corridor stations to Colfax. Examine a multi-jurisdictional business improvement district (BID) and explore the creation of a linear urban renewal district for both jurisdictions.