Stapleton: Denver's Green Neighborhood

Stapleton's sustainability vision succeeds in the hands of its residents.

Stapleton's sustainability is best evidenced by the actions of its residents. For example, four years ago, the developer, Forest City, planned a Founder's Day celebration on the town green, but was concerned about adequate parking.

"We sent out info to all the residents about where they should park so that we didn't push parking across the street to the other neighborhoods," said Tom Gleason, vice president of public relations, Forest City Stapleton, Inc. "There were probably about 2,500 people there. At the height of our event, I went out to the parking zones and they were virtually empty."

Denver's newest neighborhood attracts active families who share a concern for the environment and the neighborhood's design is a testament to that, said Tom. Stapleton operated as an airport for 66 years, owned and operated by the city and county of Denver. Thanks to community visionaries, the 7.5-acre site didn't remain fenced off, but underwent a massive "greening" to prepare it for residential living when the airport closed in 1995.

By Federal law, the City of Denver was required to remediate all land before selling it at full market value to their chosen master developer, Cleveland-based Forest City. "They did an assessment to determine what had been left over after 60-plus years of an airport's operation," said Tom. Jet fuel, deicer, asbestos from old buildings and a groundwater plume of pollution that cut across the southwest corner (originating from the Lowry Air Force base a mile south) were all cleaned up before development began.

Then, the sustainability vision began.

Stapleton residents share a mutual concern for the environment and their community.

Water conservation

Denver is in an arid region, and when the first homes were sold in Stapleton in 2001-2002, it was considered to be one of the most severe droughts in years in Colorado. The developers selected drought-resistant landscape that requires less water but it still very colorful. And, during land remediation, Westerly Creek, formerly a ditch covered by dirt, was transformed back into a nature preserve, and provides a valuable source of water for local wildlife.

Public transportation

In addition to sidewalks and close proximity to grocery and retail, the neighborhood is part of the Denver city street grid to allow for public transportation. According to FasTracks Regional Transportation District of Denver by 2015, the FasTracks East Corridor Light Rail expansion will open up a new location in Stapleton called the Central Park Station. From this station, the ride to the airport will be 20 minutes and to downtown, 15 minutes.

Recycling and composting

"Stapleton has the highest participation of any neighborhood in Denver for recycling," said Tom. Plus, Denver is currently piloting a composting program in the city, allowing for both curbside composting and recycling. Smartly, Stapleton's 6 million tons of concrete airport runways were recycled into "Staplestone," an aggregate used to build roadways, bridges and bike paths, saving on costly mountain mining and eliminating the carbon footprint of transporting all that rock to the Stapleton site.

Building green

Stapleton requires that all builders meet the Built Green standards from the Home Builders Association of Metro Denver. These standards require homes to be 20 percent more efficient than current homes. Forest City works with builders to ensure homes are energy-star certified, including appliances, making the homes on average nearly 30 percent more efficient. One company, New Town Builders, is going beyond this efficiency and is currently in development with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colo., to design and build a net-zero home, to be unveiled in summer 2011.

Also, all commercial buildings are LEED certified, which has almost become standard, said Tom. Forest City works with retail businesses to help them choose eco-friendly materials for the inside of their spaces, as well.

Solar power

Stapleton homeowner Doug Roth was recently profiled in a Dec. 11, 2010 Denver Post article for his incredibly small energy bill: $40 for the year. How did he do it in his New Town Builders' home? Solar panels on the roof.

"The greenest energy you'll ever have is the energy you don't use," said Gene Myers, chairman of New Town Builders. Solar energy panels now come standard on the builder's houses in Stapleton. The panels have no moving parts, are less obtrusive and can be monitored by a handheld device that gives homeowners an instant read on energy usage. A combination of Federal and local rebates and tax credits makes the average cost $8,000-10,000, said Myers -- but when you're selling power back to the energy company, that price tag suddenly has less sticker shock.

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