CPFAN Request for ECAP Comment Period Extension, Problems with ECAP Planning Process and PUMA Contract Non-Performance

ARTICLE III RNO Ordinance – City Charter

PUMA Prof Svcs-Agreement – PUMA-and_City-County-Denver

 

Dear Denver City Council Members, City Planners and Auditor O’Brien:

I am the president of City Park Friends and Neighbors (CPFAN), a delegate to Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC), a member of Congress Park Neighbors, Inc.(CPN) and a 40 year resident of Congress Park. I have known about the East Central Area Plan (ECAP) for almost 2 years and attended many meetings with City Planners.

My comments reflect these experiences, conversations with residents and leadership of many ECAP Registered Neighborhood Organizations (RNOs) and observations of City Council Meetings.

My letter follows on my earlier communications (see email thread) about non-inclusive and unequal treatment of residents affected by the East Central Area Plan as compared to those impacted by the East Area Plan and problems related to inadequate notification, public outreach and community engagement. Other individuals and RNOs have written to Council Members and CPD (City Planning Department) about some of these concerns. In general CPFAN supports their continued efforts to improve ECAP community awareness.

This letter is addressed to all members of Denver City Council because these complaints are similar to those expressed by residents and organizations during weekly Council discussions about re-zoning, variances and sale of public property. They are indicative of deeper concerns related to transparency and equity. The issues are serious and systemic. A copy is being sent to the City Auditor because of concern about possible contractual non-performance.

Property owners pay taxes and have a reasonable expectation to be notified about City plans that may result in zoning changes affecting their property rights and real estate values. Currently, public notification may not occur until late in the planning process. When City planning is allowed to proceed without sufficient public transparency, awareness and opportunity for meaningful input, then residents, neighborhoods, community organizations, RNOs etc. become angry and upset, write to Council Members and speak up in person at weekly Council meetings. The proposed sale of Rosedale School is a recent example of “stealth planning” that upset local residents.

Denver’s Neighborhood Planning Initiative (NPI) will create area plans to replace current Council approved neighborhood plans and provide a basis for zoning recommendations to guide growth for the next 20 years. The Federally Funded Professional Services Agreement between Denver and Progressive Urban Management Associates, Inc. (PUMA) requires CPD to use a broad based community outreach process to engage residents along the Colfax transportation corridor to develop the ECAP and the East Area Plan (EAP) instead of Denver’s usual planning process.

Despite the requirement for community engagement, CPD and PUMA created the ECAP with very little resident awareness and input. Consequently, widespread ignorance about the ECAP persists among community residents and many dislike what CPD proposes. The outline below summarizes the facts supporting these allegations.

  • The 1st ECAP Steering Committee was held on 7/19/17.
    • The importance of community outreach and engagement was raised by attendees during this initial meeting.
    • CPD stated that they were working on getting a consultant to help them accomplish this task.
  • Multiple Steering Committees followed
    • These were largely topical. Limited prepared materials were provided and discussion focused on issues that CPD wanted to inform members about.
    • Some members were surprised by the narrow nature of the presentations which contrasted with the complexity of the planning problem and the need to integrate the ECAP with multiple preexisting City plans.
    • Information exchange was largely top down from CPD.
    • There was little opportunity for members to critically discuss planning assumptions, alternative perspectives, dissenting points of view and address local resident concerns. For example, on several occasions Steering Committee members requested CPD to do additional on-street parking traffic studies. Despite repeated assurances, no additional research was done.
    • It became apparent to many members of the Steering Committee that the ECAP was largely complete, that CPD was informing committee members about the plan and that their input would not result in substantive change. Member attendance decreased as a result.
    • Because of CPD’s attitude some Steering Committee members considered their involvement to be “window dressing” and that the most important role of meetings was not to solicit participant’s ideas but to document the existence of a “public process.”
    • The 15th ECAP Steering Committee meeting was held roughly14 months later on 9/13/18.
  • Almost 15 months later, on 10/3/18, Denver signed a Federally funded Professional Services Agreement with PUMA (attached) to “diligently and professionally perform the planning and design services for consulting with respect to strategy and input for Colfax Area Plans.”
  • CPD and PUMA have not complied with the terms of this contract by failing to meaningfully engage with residents affected by the ECAP.
    • Exhibit A: Scope of Services, Task 2: Community Engagement describes the need to focus “on building knowledge, awareness, trust, and partnerships through a meaningful community dialogue” and describes a variety of mechanisms for residents to give input into development of the ECAP. For example,
      • Task 2.1: Community Engagement Plan specifies ” A creative, equitable, and organized approach for involving the public, building community ownership and ensuring legitimacy for the area plans,” including an equitable and fair process as described in Federal Title VI.
      • Task 2.4 Targeted Engagement describes a variety of community outreach strategies to engage residents which were used late in the process or never even tried. Examples include:
        • Over 1½ years elapsed before the first ECAP community workshop was held on February 5, 2019.
        • The Teller School Parents Teachers Association meeting occurred on 1/28/2020 (recording available).. This meeting exposed areas of disagreement between current educational realities and conflicting assumptions made by the ECAP and Denver Public Schools about educational infrastructure. This meeting occurred after the initial public comment was closed and only a week before the extended public comment period ended.
        • “Field Office” events were never held and are only now being proposed as part “additional outreach.”
  • Problems with the ECAP and EAP Steering Committee process resulted in an INC meeting and panel presentation on 9/14/2019 that was attended by some Council members (video available).
  • Despite repeated notification about problems with the ECAP planning process there was no change until residents and RNOs began complaining to Council Members and writing letters.

Recently, CPD acknowledged their failure to engage residents about the ECAP and proposed additional community outreach and a limited extension of the comment period and planning process. CPD’s proposal is inadequate for the following reasons:

It does not address the concerns about lack of inclusiveness and equity expressed in my initial letter.

These problems and concerns are not unique to the ECAP. Similar issues will arise in other parts of Denver as the NPI moves forward. CPD needs a different planning process for the city wide planning effort to succeed.

Thank you for your attention to this matter,

Respectfully,

Stephen Eppler

President, City Park Friends and Neighbors

 

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