The calming shades of blue washed over a Denver neighborhood map made the clumps of letters, numbers, and hyphens scattered across the picture less confusing – E-SU-D, C-MX-5, E-RH-2.5, OS- A.

Other handouts with a glossary helped. Better still, having architecture and planning experts at the Escuela de Guadalupe gym for the final of a series of neighborhood forums called Visioning Villa Park.

Kathy Sandoval, Treasurer of Villa Park’s Registered Neighborhood Organization, attended all three forums presented by the Denver Architecture Foundation to explain things like the grouping of letters and numbers that relate to residential, commercial and other uses for which plots are zoned. She said she appreciated the professionals sharing their skills for free and compared them to lawyers offering pro bono services.

“It offered us a different architectural design vocabulary as a neighborhood,” Sandoval said after she and two dozen neighbors gathered for breakfast burritos and a development discussion on Saturday.

Dick Farley, a member of the Denver Architecture Foundation’s board of directors, led the public affairs at Villa Park, a new project for the organization dedicated to good design. The aim of the pilot project was to support neighborhoods where people were interested in understanding their architectural character and protecting and developing it in a rapidly changing environment.

“Virtually every neighborhood in the city is nervous about its character,” Farley said.

He wanted to focus on one “on the cusp of development” where the project could have the greatest impact. West Denver, home to major developments at various stages of completion, such as the Broncos Stadium entertainment district and the Denver Housing Authority’s West Ridge project, was a natural place to start.

The Architecture Foundation found a leader in Renee Martinez-Stone, whose West Denver Renaissance Collaborative has resided in Athmar Park, Barnum, Barnum West, La Alma-Lincoln Park, Sun Valley, Valverde, West Colfax, and Westwood since 2016 connects Villa Park to programs and resources to empower their neighborhoods. Martinez-Stone, herself an urban planning consultant, reached out to her contacts and found that Villa Park’s neighborhood organization was keen to work with the architecture foundation. The forums started with an introduction to architecture and landscape in October, moved on to a zone discussion, and ended on Saturday where the first two topics overlap with the neighborhood being viewed as a developer.

Farley and four other volunteers had started driving the neighborhood that looks like a broken brick on a map – the straight edges of State Highway 95, Sixth Avenue, and Federal Boulevard are the western, southern, and eastern borders, with Lakewood Gulch has a bump line to the north. The RTD W line, which connects Union Station with Jefferson County, runs along the northern border, although the gorge can make it difficult to get to the Knox Court, Perry Street and Sheridan light rail stations. Farley’s team also walked down stretches of Villa Park, taking notes and photos, and analyzing city data about the neighborhood.

Most of the Villa Park was built after WWII and has large lots along long blocks of humble houses that have been thrown up for returning soldiers. When they first met in October for a pasta dinner at the Eagleton Elementary Cafeteria, Farley told the folks at Villa Park that they “have a unique neighborhood. I am impressed and amazed. “

Parks and alleys that the planners found to create more parking space, including for granny flats that could be built and that have contributed to the distribution of traffic, received good marks. Farley was particularly fond of the views of downtown and the Rocky Mountains created by the steep topography of Villa Park. As he walked the streets that were occasionally jogging unexpectedly, he saw “what I consider to be casual views”.

“Those are opportunities,” Farley said, adding that planting trees could make moments like this even more beautiful.

Farley’s colleague, landscape architect Tina Bishop, pointed out that Villa Park already had “amazing tree growth”. You have an amazing urban forest. “

These views, big lots, and access to transit attract developers.

The residents of Villa Park heard that zoning could already scrape away a typical small house in Villa Park and replace it with something much, much larger. And more expensive.

During the meeting on Saturday, Jesse Bank, an architect trained developer and a board member of the Denver Architecture Foundation, proposed a proactive rededication. He described that neighbors working together to remodel a block where they’d like to see cafes and retail stores moving from residential to mixed-use with enough floors to encourage a developer to potentially build affordable housing above a store, he described.

Several neighbors at the meetings feared being displaced with rising rents and property taxes, sometimes due to gentrification in the surrounding areas.

Developers respond to the laws of supply and demand and what homebuyers pay, said the bank, which is part of Farley’s team.

“While you’re not going to change how developers behave, you can change how they respond,” he said. “Focus on shaping the change. Change is coming and it will be difficult to stop. “

Jesse Bank, board member of the Architect and Denver Architecture Foundation, has a discussion during a foundation meeting with the neighbors of Villa Park on May 18, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)

Neighbors heard about the city’s Denver blueprint raising concerns about the preservation and creation of affordable housing that has been emerging across the city. Blueprint Denver suggests that the affordability goal can be met by allowing more density in traditionally single-family neighborhoods. This can mean additional residential units, which are also known as guest houses, maisonettes, quadruples and townhouses. The document also suggests constraining developers’ right to build taller buildings by the requirement to build affordable housing and creating design overlays that require features that neighbors wish to preserve, such as: B. Front gardens.

It took nearly three years to produce the 300-page Denver Blueprint, which the city council approved last month. It was drafted by a resident-led voluntary task force, supported by city staff and advisors, and informed through comments heard during public meetings and polls. It’s a guide – not a recipe – for setting goals as the city grows. This can influence the neighborhood plans, as a resident of Villa Park will have the opportunity to participate in the design from next month.

Chelsea Thomas, who lives in Villa Park, said that during the three discussions about the architecture foundation, she was optimistic about what it could add to the neighborhood plan. She said she realized that city officials would see a bigger picture when planning the future of Denver, but believed that “within that framework, they care what the neighborhoods want”.

“It’s interesting to see how everyone has different ideas about what could happen,” said Thomas, who is a member of her neighborhood association.

“We have to find a graceful, sustainable way to move forward,” said Thomas.

Martinez-Stone of the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative took the opportunity at the Visioning Villa Park Meetings to educate neighbors about options such as Rental Assistance and the Denver Property Tax Relief Program, which offers property tax breaks to seniors and households that include children and children earns up to 40 percent of area median income.

“There are a number of services out there,” said Martinez-Stone. “It’s been around for years. It’s just that they’re a little hard to find at times. “

Martinez-Stone also outlined her organization’s project to help West Denver homeowners build ADUs that they then have to agree to rent below the market, creating a source of income for homeowners and cheaper options for renters.

Renee Martinez-Stone of the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative speaks during a discussion during a Denver Architecture Foundation meeting with neighbors of Villa Park on May 18, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)

Lisa Trevino, who attended Escuela de Guadalupe but now lives in Barnum on the sixth page, said she heard about the series and came to the second meeting, mainly hoping to learn about ADUs. She was so interested in the wider discussion that she came to the last meeting. Trevino said she left hoping that neighborhoods could affect change.

“It will all come together,” she said.

Sandoval, the neighborhood association treasurer, said that as a result of Visioning Villa Park, she would be looking for ways to attract social and economic program experts to similar forums.

The architecture foundation, which has dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to Villa Park, is also looking ahead. First, Farley’s team creates a report summarizing the three sessions. Then the foundation will decide whether to try to see a different neighborhood and possibly ask for grants so that the next iteration doesn’t go completely unpaid.

The charitable foundation is perhaps best known for its Open Doors tours, an annual opportunity for you to tour the beautiful and / or unusual building you’ve always wondered about, whether it’s the Rossonian Hotel or the Highlands Masonic Temple acts. The foundation also publishes a definitive guide to architecture in Denver and relies on Box City, where elementary school students gather in the lobby of History Colorado to design their own mock city out of cardboard, paper and their ideas.

When the foundation’s new project was completed on Saturday, the residents of Villa Park stopped to study maps, talk to each other and interview architects.

“They organize over there,” said Pauline Herrera Serianni, managing director of the architecture foundation, and pointed to a neighbors node. The series “has already made an impact.”

Corrected that the bank is a developer who trained as an architect.