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AURORA, CO-Tonight, Aurora City Council will decide whether a Denver developer can build the first luxury apartment complex and 400,000 sf of retail next to the former Army base at Fitzsimmons.

Denver developer Sandy Metzel is planning to build a $45-million, 354-unit complex and retail center on about 28-1/2 acres, which he optioned for $2.2 million with the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese. The property is situated at the southeast corner of Sable Boulevard and East Colfax near the University of Colorado Health Science Center project that will create one of the nation’s largest biotechnology research centers. The land had been donated to the archdiocese with the stipulation that any proceeds from a sale are used to aid poor and needy children.

Metzel is seeking council’s permission to alter the business zoning to allow heavy commercial uses. He also plans to spend about $500,000 to improve the Granby Ditch spillway, used for flood control, and develop a cooperative effort with the nearby Super Kmart and other local businesses to install a new traffic light and make street improvements, estimated to cost $150,000.

Despite all of the pluses to his development, Metzel, principal of SKM Management Co., worries about tonight’s vote since the city’s planning commission rejected the rezoning on a 3-2 vote Aug. 23. Residents had argued the apartment complex–where average rents would top $1,000 a month–is incompatible with the neighborhood, too dense and could bring crime to the neighborhood.

“We are even concerned about the effects on the wildlife presently there and the impact on us,” says Steve Ruddick, president of the Chambers Heights Neighborhood Association, which represents 900 single-family homes in the area. “It isn’t just the prairie dogs that we in Aurora classify as ‘vermin,’” he told planners, after arguing the apartment complex could negatively effect real estate values and bring graffiti and extra traffic to the area. “We do not want the impact of this to invade our single-family area, yet there is no where else for them to go,” he asserted.

Donna M. Barr, a consultant to the Catholic Foundation, in a letter to the commission, obtained by GlobeSt.com, supports Metzel. “It would be logical for you to assume that the foundation is expressing its support only to have the sale of the property close and gets its money,” Barr writes. “Therefore, we want you to know … we sincerely believe that this proposed rezoning is a good fit for the community, and secondly, that when this property was gifted to the Catholic Church, any proceeds therefrom were specifically designated by the donor to be used for poor and needy children. The foundation will honor this request.”

Metzel adds the multibillion dollar renovation of Fitzsimmons includes no multifamily projects. “Yet, there’s going to be tremendous growth there,” Metzel tells GlobeSt.com. “Rightnow, there’s a half-billion dollar worth of projects under construction. Where are the people working there going to live? Rezonings are never easy and are always controversial.” She contends “the project will serve the greater good,” adding the zoning has been in place for 31 years despite the changes in the area.

Metzel says retail will include offerings such as trendy coffee and burrito shops that will only bring better tenants to an area now dominated by fast-food restaurants. Jeff Hawks, an apartment specialist with Grubb & Ellis, says Metzel’s project is the kind that area desperately needs. “That’s exactly the kind of project that Aurora should be encouraging,” says Hawks.

Metzel says his two-and three-story project would have all the amenities found in a new apartment development, including attached garages, and a 5,000-sf clubhouse with fitness and conference centers. “My apartment complex would be the first out there, so it would have to be commensurate with or better than anything else on the east side,” Metzel says. “It would be raising the bar, setting a new standard.

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