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DENVER-Long-time parking lot owner Richard Geller handed over two parking lots for the city’s $378-million Justice Center that will include the new jail. In return, in a deal that Mayor John Hickenlooper personally became involved with, the city arranged a swap with two parking lots along Cherry Creek, just off Speer Boulevard.

Geller wants to develop a $75-million 31-story condominium tower on the creekside property. There’s only one problem. He needs it to be removed from Lower Downtown Historic District to develop anything taller than 55 feet.

But the Landmark Preservation Commission, which was appointed by Hickenlooper (and includes long-time historic preservationist Elizabeth Schlosser, who ran against Hickenlooper for mayor), turned down Geller’s request. Geller wants the commission, or the city council, to reconsider his request for the 375-foot high tower. It would be designed by local architect David Owen Tryba.

The situation is yet to be fully resolved. Meanwhile, the development community is watching it closely. Some feel that Geller is correct, while others believe the commission is only doing its job, something that Geller himself doesn’t contradict, even though he’s frustrated by its decision.

City Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth, whose district includes Downtown, says the commission shouldn’t be making the ultimate decision, as that is the job of the council. Hickenlooper, meanwhile, is officially remaining neutral, although when the land swap was signed last spring, he noted he would support the rezoning. Hickenlooper notes that his planning director, Peter Park, thinks the tower is a good idea for the fabric of downtown.

The deal could come to a head on Nov. 1. If the deal isn’t completed at that time, he can back out of the deal and the city would pony up at additional $450,000 for the lots near the justice center.

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