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Residents fear blight designation will allow developers to bulldoze history

9:44 AM, Sep 3, 2012   |    comments
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City leaders want to bring back the vibrancy of decades past, but neighbors fear the plan will allow developers to bulldoze history, because it contains Eminent domain language.

The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) wants to declare the Welton Corridor blighted.

DURA says no developers currently have plans on the table, but the blight designation would allow the city to offer incentives to build or remodel homes and businesses.

Read more about the plan here: http://www.renewdenver.org/news-and-information/revitalizing-welton-corridor.html

So far, there is no city council opposition to the plan, which will go up for a vote on Monday, September 10.

Scott Davis spent 15 years renovating a 129 year old Victorian on Welton Street.

"It is my home," Davis said. "It's in historic Five Points. It's a funky old house. Local neighbors say that it was built as a brothel. I feel like I'm living in history. We bought it when it was abandoned. It's where I'm raising my family. I live here with my wife and my three children and my dog."

Davis says his piece of history is in peril.

"My worst nightmare is that I get a condemnation hearing and they've got some big developer who wants to build [and] basically erase the history," Davis said.

DURA Executive Director Tracy Huggins imagines a transformation along the Welton Corridor, much like downtown and LoDo.

"There are a number of challenge properties along the corridor," Higgins said. "The vision for the corridor is the bring back the vibrancy that it had decades ago."

Huggins points out problems that have deterred developers for decades, including deterioration, badly laid out lots, unsafe streets and buildings.

Some neighbors question DURA's definition of 'blight.' Factors listed in the study included a light rail limiting street parking and a garden being called 'weeds.'

Jeff Sitzman has been renovating his house on Welton Street for nearly a decade.

Sitzman and his neighbors have been fighting blight, which makes the city's official designation, a personal insult.

"To say our property is individually blighted, it's very upsetting," Sitzman said. "We love our neighborhood and we love our homes."

The urban renewal plan gives DURA the power to finance redevelopment.

With city council approval, DURA could also use Eminent domain when the city buys private property without the owner's permission.

"I've been asked at a number of meetings, 'can you tell us you will never use this tool?' And I can't answer that 'no, we will never use this tool' because we don't know what the future holds," Huggins said.

Huggins says Eminent domain would only be used "for the greater good" and she says DURA has only invoked that power three times in 30 years, and has threatened to use it fewer than five times.

"This is a tool that is very powerful, is very controversial, and one that is used very, very infrequently," Huggins said.

Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks supports the plan, but says neighbors don't need to worry about DURA taking their homes.

"A lot of folks are saying we just want revitalization. No city councilperson wants to look in front of a voter and say we're going to claim Eminent domain over your property," Brooks said.

Brooks expects the plan to easily pass and it will stay in place for the next 25 years.

Davis says the city tried to sneak the plan past neighbors, even though DURA sent out at least three letters beginning last November.

"I feel like I've been blindsided," Davis said. "No one ever knocked on my door. No one ever called me. No one left a flyer."

Now the people living on the block, worry they will be left in limbo.

"To go as far as using Eminent domain, to have that sword hanging over our head for the next 25 years is quite disheartening," Sitzman said.

9NEWS learned about this story through a news tip. If you have a story you think we should know about it, you can e-mail us at newstips@9news.com.

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