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Federal Center property

More voices added to Lakewood's fed center property debate

Residents, businesses, local leaders weigh in on proposed project

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Opinions are mixed, to put it lightly, about the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless plan to use 59 acres of undeveloped land near the Federal Center in Lakewood for housing and services for the homeless.

The coalition is currently preparing detailed financing and operational plans to submit to the Department of Health and Human Services, even as homeless advocates, and community representatives struggle with how best to use the land, and how a large influx of homeless people to the community might change things.

“Putting an island of destitute people in a business corridor seems like a poor, poor plan,” said Ronda Frazier, who founded the Facebook group, Lakewood Residents Unite, which is working to find the best ways to effectively oppose the project. She lives near the property. “Ideally, I would like to see all the parties involved get together and come up with something that is a better to fit to the city’s master plan. The majority of people would support some type of assistance for the homeless, but this project is too much.”

While a larger number of Lakewood residents have come out against the proposed project — the membership of Lakewood Residents Unite, which is a closed group, is about 731 members — the opposition is not unanimous.

“I want to help open up peoples’ eyes, and help them see there’s stuff going on outside their own houses that is going to affect them because they refuse to think of these people,” said Chelly Magers, who started the open Facebook group Lakewood Residents with Compassion Unite, which has a membership of 36 at the time of writing. “A lot of people are lacking empathy, and I want this group where people can talk about this in a positive way, maybe change minds and foster dialogue.”

Both groups got their starts in discussions held on Nextdoor.com, but found the conversations to be too negative — sometimes cruelly so — and too philosophical. Instead, the founders wanted a place to go where people could take action.

In Lakewood Residents Unite, concerned residents can find access to pertinent documents, contacts for city council members, legislators on state and national levels, and Colorado Coalition leadership so they can share their thoughts on the project, and keep up to date on the process. There’s also a petition to stop the project with about 1,500 signatures.

“We have people from the right, from the left, and everywhere in between, and we’ve worked really hard to avoid the politics,” Frazier explained. “One of the biggest problems we had is so many people, especially older ones, had no idea this was going on.”

Members of the group have raised a variety of concerns about the project, ranging from the potential dangers of environmental contamination of the site — since the northern acres of the site (where the coalition proposes to set up the solar farm) were used as a landfill for a variety of materials, including asbestos — to concerns about security on the site, since there will be no screening for residents, as well as the cost of maintenance and development.

All of these are features of what might be the biggest complaint about the project from members of the group — it’s size. With an ultimate goal of building 500 to 600 permanent affordable housing units in apartment buildings on the site, capable of housing 1,000 people, residents are concerned about that many people in such a small space, next to a busy business corridor.

“Consensus is Lakewood should certainly try to deal with the homeless problem, but in a way that has proven to work. And the Coalition has never done a project of this size before,” Frazier said. “Trying to put that many low income in one place asking for trouble, not just for community but for the people who could live there.

MORE: Residents vent frustrations at first Coalition meeting

The Coalition has until March 9 to submit their plans for the $120 million project to the HHS. As this is a federal matter, city council and local legislators don’t much in the way of say over the final site decision, which is a source of frustration for many.

But Magers and her group decided to find the positive in the proposed project, and have used Facebook to share stories about homelessness and the potential for good the project could bring.

“I’ve lived in Lakewood for a decade, and watched the area become completely changed with the opening of the hospital and other development on Union,” she said. “I just thought this kind of project was the next step in positive things for the community.”

Homelessness in the county has become a bigger problem in recent years, with rising housing costs driving up rents, and families are being increasingly affected. Certain groups, including veterans, often have to contend with high levels of homelessness. According to Jefferson County Public Schools, as many 2,700 homeless students in the school district.

Aware of this dire situation, Magers believes the project could be a boon to a great many people — who are already in the community.

“It’s really unfortunate that people say this place is going to draw people here — homeless people are already here,” she said. “This will give them a clean, legal place to go. There might be some negatives, but the positives outweigh them. In my mind, if we get people back on their feet, they can be a bigger and more important part of the community. And that helps everyone.”

As the fate of the project continues to be debated, Frazier said she and other residents will keep the pressure on local leaders, as well as the Coalition and its supporters to create something that has more mixed uses, and could prove beneficial to the community.

“We’re going to keep the heat up,” she said. “Our voices will remain loud, and if the project is approved, we’re going to look to city lawyers to see what can be done.”

For her part, Magers said she will continue to support the Coalition’s efforts, and use the group to share the positive ways the project could make an impact.

“My main goal is to keep up the energy and try to change people’s minds about how this could be a good thing,” she said. “I think a lot of people are only worried about what’s happening in their house and how it could affect them. We have to look out for our fellow man, and look out for each other.”

Elected officials to keep eye on progress

Despite the fact that at the current stage in the process, Lakewood’s City Council has no say in the decisions, that hasn’t stopped concerned residents from reaching out to their elected officials about the project.

According to information provided by the city, Lakewood wants the process to be as open as transparent as possible, with multiple opportunities for community outreach and input.

At the Feb. 26 city council meeting, Mayor Adam Paul said the city is working in partnership with Jefferson County and federal lawmakers to talk with the federal officials making this decision to find better solutions for those who are homeless and for the community.

“This council is unified,” Paul added. “This council is working hard to address issues. We’re united and hopeful we’ll see a better outcome for city.”

City officials have met with the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to convey the community’s concerns, according to information provided by the city.

“We have emphasized that this area serves as an important commercial and residential hub for Lakewood, and we highlighted that plans developed with public input over several years outline a different vision for this property. These plans call for a mix of uses that include offices, research and development, residences, shops and public amenities,” the information continues. “We certainly know the needs of those who are homeless must be addressed, but we are concerned that this proposal is similar to solutions used decades ago where residents with disadvantages were concentrated in specific areas of cities. Those solutions ultimately have stigmatized those residents even more, and we don’t believe this is the best approach for today.”

Lakewood has created four different community plans about the area, which includes the Federal Center Master Plan, the Federal Center/Union Boulevard Connectivity Plan, the Union Corridor Urban Design Plan and the Union Corridor Station Area Plan.

“We have asked the federal officials to respect these plans as they represent the community members’ vision for their city,” according to provided information.

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) was in favor of the city’s original plan from late 2015, and has also been hearing for area residents.

“For several years the property at the Federal Center has been a hot topic of conversation in Lakewood, and over this period of time I have listened to all the stakeholders involved,” he said. “While we await the decision, I hope all the stakeholders involved will continue to discuss ways we can move forward. Even though there are many differing opinions about the best use of this land, we can all agree we want what’s best for our community. My office is engaged and monitoring the issue.”

Businesses concerned

The Union Corridor is one of the busiest and most booming areas of Lakewood. It is home to large employers like St. Anthony Hospital and the Sheraton Denver West, as well as local mainstays like 240 Union and Jose O’Shea’s.

“I’m not sure what to think, but I am a little worried and concerned,” said Michael Coughlin, who was owned 240 Union for 30 years. “I have the utmost respect for what the Coalition is doing for the homeless, but not sure if this project is the right way.”

Coughlin express concern about so many homeless people concentrated in one area, and said he hopes the project could become a mixed-use project. A sentiment echoed by Edward Sim, CEO of St. Anthony’s Hospital.

“As we learn more about this proposed land use and have conversations with various Lakewood leaders, we share some of their concerns about concentrating disadvantaged populations in one location,” he said. “We are uncertain that this is the best way to serve this population.”

Just down the road from the proposed project on Alameda is Colorado Christian University. As a school that promotes Christian beliefs, including work with the homeless, it has a homeless ministry program called Sojourners.

Undergraduate students participate in the ministry and travel weekly to the downtown Denver area, reaching the homeless population by providing food and developing friendships with the vision to spread the love of Christ to a very marginalized population, said Lance J. Oversole, spokesman for the university.

“Should this initiative move forward, I would certainly see our undergraduate students engaging with this new community in a similar fashion,” he said.

Organizations like the West Metro Chamber and Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation work with many of the businesses in the Union Corridor, and are concerned about the impacts of this kind of project in a thriving business corridor.

“This project affects all the businesses on the Union Corridor, the City of Lakewood, Jefferson County, West Metro Fire, Jeffco Public Schools and more,” said Pam Bales, President and CEO of the West Metro Chamber. “To date, the only voice being heard by the federal government seems to be coalition. We are working together to have our voices heard.”

Leigh Seeger, vice president of the Jeffco EDC, said it has been working with the business community to ensure their voices and concerns are heard as the project moves forward.

“Our message to the agencies is that we believe that the comprehensive master plan that was adopted by GSA and the City of Lakewood should be taken into consideration,” Seeger said. “It is critical that the voice of the diverse populations surrounding the Union Corridor be heard and taken into consideration. It is difficult to imagine that Congress envisioned discriminating against many population sectors in favor of one through a program that does not require any public process. Our community is inclusive and we should foster that.”

At a time when many restaurants are struggling to find and hold onto good employees, Coughlin said it’s possible the project could bring in potential new employees for area businesses. He does, however, remain uncertain about what the future could hold.

“If it happens I’m going to have to embrace it, because it’s going to be there,” he said. “How I do that, I don’t really know.”

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