County will review amphitheater changes

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By AJ Vicens

The community will have a chance to weigh in on plans by the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield to upgrade its amphitheater after the organization submitted a pre-application to the Jeffco planning office on April 8.

The move comes after confusion about whether the Gardens needed to submit its plan to the county at all, considering it is on federal land.

The Gardens is planning to upgrade its existing amphitheater, whose stage currently points due north toward homes in the Chatfield Bluffs neighborhood. The plan would realign the stage to make it point more to the east, toward the intersection of Wadsworth and C-470. The plan also calls for adding berms on the sides and at the back, and planting small trees and wildflowers in an attempt to muffle noise.

The Gardens held a public meeting March 5 with several nearby residents, who said that the noise from concerts at the Gardens was a nuisance. They also expressed doubt that the realignment, berms and flora would contain the noise. Larry Vickerman, director of the Gardens at Chatfield, said during the meeting he tried to contact the county about the plan and didn’t get a call back. Mike Chadwick, a planning and zoning administrator with the county, disputes that claim.

Vickerman told residents at the meeting that the Gardens would submit the plan to the county, but a short time later told Dave Evans, a homeowner in Chatfield Bluffs, that the Gardens didn’t have to go through the county and likely wouldn’t. Evans and his HOA sent a letter to the Gardens’ CEO on March 26 again asking for the plan to go through the county site approval process.

Jeffco planning officials said the Gardens did have to submit the plan for review, and apparently attorneys for the city and county of Denver — which works in a partnership with the Gardens — didn’t think it was necessary.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to do it all along,” said Brian Vogt, CEO of the Denver Botanic Gardens. “We will submit all the paperwork, and it will give a good opportunity for the community to have some dialogue on it.”

The pre-application is an optional seven-day review process that lets planning staff — including engineers, planners, transportation officials, road and bridge staffers and the health department — to quickly examine the plan for shortcomings, according to Planning Director John Wolforth. He said it helps streamline the process for the applicant and the county, and he estimated that 99.5 percent of applicants undergo the pre-application process.

After the pre-application, the formal application is submitted to the planning and zoning division, and the applicant has the right to have its application heard before the planning commission within 30 days. The planning commission then takes public testimony. In this case, the planning commission will approve or deny the application, and it will not go before the county commissioners. The board of the Botanic Gardens has the right to dispute the planning commission’s denial if the project is denied.

Vogt wouldn’t speculate on whether his board would go against a planning commission denial.

“I think they’re going to see the benign nature of what we’re doing,” Vogt said. “I can’t even imagine on what grounds they would deny it.”

Wolforth said that even though the Denver Botanic Gardens board of directors can overturn the planning commission’s decision, there is value in the process.

“What it does do is it gives the public a public venue to air their concerns in front of the planning commission, and also that the Botanic Gardens can hear their concerns,” Wolforth said. “There is a record kept. If the planning commission denies it, there’s a record.”

Evans said a public process is all he and other homeowners want.

“We’re just after getting due process,” Evans said. “We’re not shouting at anybody. Let’s give the process a chance.”

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.