For residents of northwest Denver’s Berkeley neighborhood, Tennyson Street is the historic main drag, shaped by its past life as a node on a city streetcar line. Now, it’s a vastly different place than it was even a few years ago.
Block by block, bungalows, single-story commercial buildings and parking lots have been replaced by townhomes, condos and apartments along the strip stretching from 38th Avenue north to 46th Avenue.
Last month, a Denver architecture firm submitted plans to the city for a potential new building at the northwest corner of Tennyson and West 45th Avenue, across from a fire station. That early-stage proposal calls for replacing two homes there with a three-story development containing 14 residences and two ground-floor spaces for businesses.
On that same block, the house at 4558 Tennyson, most recently the location of Berkeley Park Running Co. was demolished earlier this summer. The house, built in 1901, according to city records, was torn down ahead of a proposed major redevelopment that could bring 90 new apartments and new retail space to the street.
In a city aching for more housing as its population swells, the developer interest on Tennyson has been welcomed by some, including business owners grateful to have more patrons living nearby. But the finished products haven’t always been well-received. Lots that once hosted storefronts in converted homes now feature blocky buildings crowding the sidewalk with leasing offices, private workout facilities and garages taking over the ground floor.
“I would say there are certain parts of Tennyson that could be called the poster child for bad urban development,” said Bill Killam, who has lived in Berkeley for 35 years and chairs the Berkeley Regis United Neighbors association’s zoning and planning committee. “No one is going to want to move to and live in the Tennyson area and this neighborhood because they want to walk down three blocks of slot homes.”
Rachel Schick, 29, moved to Berkeley two years ago, drawn by the energy and abundance of things to do along Tennyson. Even in her relatively short time there, she has been struck by how quickly old things come down and new things go up.
“I don’t want to say it’s a step in the wrong direction,” Schick said. “But the apartment complexes, they’re all a dime a dozen.”
The plan for the corner of 45th Avenue does represent progress in the struggle to maintain the corridor’s main street character. It would bring more housing density, but it also includes ground-floor retail space. Even better, that retail space it’s facing Tennyson.
There was no guarantee that would have been part of the proposal before City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval championed a special zoning overlay mandating the inclusion of ground-floor commercial space in new projects on the strip.
The overlay was adopted this spring with unanimous City Council support, the end product of years of work with neighborhood stakeholders, said Sandoval, who represents northwest Denver on the council. Her father used to operate a restaurant on the Tennyson corridor before having to sell it when he got sick with pancreatic cancer. A five-story residential building sits on that site today.
“A lot of people have said it’s too late for Tennyson,” Sandoval said earlier this week. “And I would say, for parts of it I wish the overlay was in place sooner.”
The zoning update doesn’t just apply to the Tennyson strip but a few other commercial corridors in Sandoval’s district as well. She and her staff are planning to talk to other neighborhood organizations that might want to apply the idea in their areas as well.
Developers pushed back before the Tennyson overlay was adopted, Sandoval said. A major bone of contention wasthat the new rules took effect immediately once approved. Projects that were in the design phase and weren’t yet permitted had to go back to the drawing board if commercial space wasn’t in the picture.
“Developers were upset because it was time and money,” Sandoval said. “But I told them it was worth it because of the outcome.”
The plan submitted for the two houses at the northwest corner of 45th is far from final. At this point, it’s just a concept plan, the first step in the city’s review and permitting process. The scale and even use of a future building could change before a formal site plan is submitted if one is submitted at all, city officials cautioned.
An architect with Denver-based RealArchitecture submitted the concept plan, city records show. The firm previously worked on a townhome project on the Tennyson corridor. Voicemails seeking an interview with the architect were not returned. It’s unclear if the zoning overlay impacted the design.
The future of that corner may be up in the air, but in the 4300 block of Tennyson sit three vacant houses whose days are numbered. The trio, situated between the Asher Hotel and the Cozy Cottage restaurant, had all been converted to commercial space in the past, hosting tenant businesses including a tattoo parlor and a barber shop and most recently serving as an interactive art project open to neighbors during the…