Uplands developers says project ‘a catalyst’

In Uplands’ ninth year of planning, big decisions will be made, and Jeff Handlin hopes it’s in his favor

Liam Adams
ladams@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 4/12/21

Jeff Handlin thinks Uplands Colorado will yield a net benefit, not detriment, for its neighbors. Some critics of the proposed 233-acre development in south Westminster say it will drastically change, …

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Uplands developers says project ‘a catalyst’

In Uplands’ ninth year of planning, big decisions will be made, and Jeff Handlin hopes it’s in his favor

Posted

Jeff Handlin thinks Uplands Colorado will yield a net benefit, not detriment, for its neighbors.

Some critics of the proposed 233-acre development in south Westminster say it will drastically change, and harm, the surrounding area. Handlin, founder and president of Oread Capital, the project’s primary developer, sees the opposite.

“We’d like to be a catalyst in an area that may have seen some underinvestment in the last couple of decades,” Handlin said.

Handlin believes that with his whole heart, and he wants neighbors, the planning commission and city council to believe it too. Since 2013, Handlin has committed himself to Uplands more than anything else and in 2021, a year of potential big decision-making about annexations, zoning and preliminary development plans, Handlin wants to see the fruits of his labor.

“In the past, we’ve been on the wrong side of it. Meaning, we have been the providers of monolithic developments,” Handlin said. That’s where his desire to good, to do different, stems from. He’s been behind development projects that mainly featured single family detached homes, a housing type that is limited to only certain kinds of residents and income levels.

All that does is funnel investment into parts of town that have already seen sufficient investment — in schools, businesses, etc. — but not into areas that have witnessed underinvestment, Handlin said. Shaw Heights, Federal Heights and south Westminster is one of those areas that Handlin feels he could help.

An off-the-bat way he sees Uplands as benefit to the area is the diversity of housing types that Oread and its development partners are proposing to build, including apartments, townhouses and multiplexes. Otherwise known as the “missing middle.” But it’s not just that.

“Investment into the construction of the community can be such a positive influence on the local economy, on the school district, on the type of neighborhood we build,” said Eric Kornacki, head of the Uplands Community Collective, the development’s non-profit arm. Handlin said he intentionally sought out Kornacki, who was exclusively working with non-profits beforehand, to carry out a holistic vision. “For me, it was a really exciting opportunity to try to affect change upstream, rather than at the end of the pipe trying to solve issues.”

It isn’t just for show, the two emphasize. Kornacki is talking to grocers to fill a vacant building along 84th Avenue and Federal Boulevard. He’s also in conversations with Front Range Community College about creating student internship opportunities centered around the construction of Uplands. They want to find ways to invest in local businesses located on the site’s perimeter, not force them out.

Neither Handlin nor Kornacki are shy about their belief that Uplands will be a socially conscious project. Both talked extensively about not wanting Uplands to be an agent of “displacement” or gentrification. Handlin alluded to books that have been pivotal for him, such, “Missing Middle Housing,” “Neighborhood Defenders” and “Generation Priced Out.” He said he’s doing his homework.

But not everyone is buying it. “My opinion is that this is part of his sales pitch … I think we are a very creative and resourceful community and group of people and we know what our opinion is on what is needed to build a healthy and sustainable community,” said Karen Ray, an organizer with Save the Farm, a community group opposing Uplands.

In some ways, Ray, a neighbor in the area, doesn’t disagree with Handlin’s analysis of the area’s needs. There could be more investment into it, and existing, vacant lots could be repurposed, she said. It’s the means to revitalization where she differs from Handlin, and a development with thousands of new residential units is not that.

Handlin stipulates that he doesn’t think of himself as the savior. “You can be intentional or not about the billion dollars plus that is going to be spent on the site over the next 15 years,” he said.

Handlin notes that the city’s current comprehensive plan already designates the land for mixed-use development. In other words, it’s going to be developed. So, for him, it’s a matter of, “There is a right way to do this and there is a wrong way to do this. And we are trying our best to do the right things.”

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