Loretto Heights

Pancratia Hall, on the Loretto Heights campus in southwest Denver, on Oct. 13, 2020. The building was formerly a convent and a women's college dormitory, but will soon be transformed into 72 apartments for low-income families.

The Denver City Council approved a rezoning and development agreement for Loretto Heights on Monday, cementing the plan to revitalize the century-old college campus in Harvey Park South.

The Loretto Heights Area Plan, adopted in 2019, intends to transform Loretto Heights, 72 acres on a hilltop in southwest Denver, into a community center made up of mixed-use development that repurposes some of the campus' historic assets while preserving others.

Community Planning and Development Executive Director Laura Aldrete called Monday’s bills the “muscle” behind the community’s vision.

“These regulations and requirements are the assurance to everyone who attended a public meeting or submitted comments that the development that arises will reflect their efforts and participation,” Aldrete said.

The rezoning and development agreement will provide street improvements, new bike lanes, development matching surrounding neighborhoods, climate-friendly construction under the Denver Green Code and a plan for the preservation and maintenance of historic buildings on the campus.

The bills also commit to providing affordable housing for sale and rent on the campus. One of the former dorms, Pancratia Hall, is already being redeveloped into a 72-unit affordable apartment complex for residents that earn 30% to 80% of the area median income.

Officials said they received 16 letters of support for the bills and two letters of opposition during the outreach process. Similarly, on Monday, the City Council received 11 written comments in support and two in opposition.

In addition, more than two dozen community members called in during Monday’s public hearing to voice their opinions on the bills.

“The campus has become a ghost and a shell, crumbling and fading away,” said Martha Kirkpatrick, a 1982 graduate of Loretto Heights College, during the public hearing. “Let it be rewarded for waiting. Let it be rewarded with voices and laughter, life and a new legacy.”

Donna Repp of the Mar Lee neighborhood said her neighborhood unanimously approved the Loretto Heights Area Plan in 2019 and continues to support it today. She expressed excitement for finally having a community gathering point.

“It’s undeniable that Loretto Heights is a gem,” Repp said. “I’ve never been allowed to wonder freely on to Loretto Heights because it’s been private property. For the first time ever, Loretto Heights will be accessible for all people to enjoy … keeping the wonderful spirit of Loretto and its character.”

However, some callers raised issues with the bills and the Loretto Heights Area Plan as a whole.

Xochitl Gaytan, former president of the Harvey Park Community Organization and current co-chair of the Colorado Latina Forum, opposed the bills Monday. She said the Harvey Park Community Organization opposed the 2019 plan, saying it will result in gentrification.

“I support smart growth and development when it’s done via the lens of equity and social justice, which is very different than overdevelopment,” Gaytan said. “The city of Denver is the second most gentrified city in the nation.”

Gaytan also raised concerns that the developer has 20 years of vesting rights as opposed to the typical five years and that there are no guarantees that the developer will address traffic concerns in and around the campus.

The Loretto Heights Area Plan also includes the creation of community gathering spaces and limits building heights to five stories or less on most of the site, with buildings up to eight stories high allowed in a relatively small, central spot.

The site of Loretto Heights was first home to a Catholic boarding school for girls that opened in the late 1800s, and evolved into a series of educational facilities over more than 100 years, eventually becoming Colorado Heights University.

The campus was purchased by the Sisters of Loretto in 1888 as a Catholic boarding school. Loretto Heights College for women operated for 70 years before closing in the late 1980s because of falling enrollment. Teikyo University owned the property until it sold to Westside Investment Partners in 2018.

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