Pictured is an artist rendering of an approximately 50,000-square-feet retail center proposed by Northstar Commercial Partners between Sable Boulevard and Chambers Road, in north Aurora. Courtesy photo

AURORA | A long neglected piece of land in the eastern shadows of Interstate 225 could be in store for a major facelift in the coming years thanks to a proposed housing and retail development that inched forward at a recent city council meeting.

At a regular meeting Jan. 23, council members unanimously approved an ordinance calling for the rezoning of about 26 acres of land along East Colfax Avenue between Sable Boulevard and Chambers Road, which is where Northstar Commercial Partners, a Denver-based development firm, is eyeing the construction of some 50,000-square-feet of retail space, 90 affordable living units specifically for military veterans and as many as 150 town homes.

If approved during a future second reading, the ordinance calls for the area to be zoned as sustainable infill redevelopment.

The new designation would pave the way for the total overhaul of a derelict lot that has been vacant “since God put it on this earth,” according to Matt Runyon, development associate at Northstar.

Originally zoned in 2000 as a multi-family/commercial district as a part of the defunct Monterey Pointe development, Northstar CEO Brian Watson and Director of Development Don Marcotte purchased the lot last summer for $7.75 million, according to Runyon. The pair technically owns land under the name Colfax and Sable LLC, which is effectively a subsidiary of Northstar.

“This will bring a blessing to our veterans in close proximity to the new veterans hospital,” Ward II Councilwoman Renie Peterson said of the development in an email. “This area has remained undeveloped mostly due to the cost of drainage issues.”

Runyon acknowledged that the Granby Ditch, which runs diagonally through the site, creates significant grading issues for the lot. But, he said, the ditch will provide a strip of greenway that will course through the planned development. While plans are still fluid, Runyon said the goal is to co-locate a multitude of veterans services and organizations on the site.

He said the site is unlikely to attract a major retail anchor, and that developers will instead attempt to target smaller, community-focused businesses.

“I think there will be growing demand for places that offer a happy hour because there’s a dearth of that in that corridor,” he said. “Yet, the hospital systems will be increasing the number of people who go to those campuses, as will the VA hospital once that opens, too.”

A slew of details regarding the Colfax and Sable project remain to be sorted out, however, including those related to drainage, utilities and traffic. Those particulars will be addressed in a master plan, which will be submitted to city staff for review in the coming months.

And although the general plan for the project remains intact, Runyon said the appetite for affordable housing has morphed in the months following last year’s presidential election.

“The market has drastically shifted since the election, which makes this a really challenging project to move forward,” he said. “Investors aren’t willing to pay as much for (low-income housing) tax credits … the presumption is they won’t need them as much because there’s a presumption the corporate tax rate will be reduced.

“It makes it a challenge because those tax credits aren’t as valuable.”

The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority is the local agency that inevitably has the final say on how many tax credits will be dispensed to individual projects, according to Runyon. He said Northstar is submitting the Colfax and Sable application to the CHFA this week.

If the ensuing approvals go through, Runyon said the project could break ground sometime this summer.