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Scrape-offs — homes demolished and replaced with larger, newer ones by developers — have remade vast swaths of Denver in recent years, with hundreds popping up in trendy neighborhoods like Highland, LoHi and Washington Park.
Now, as land prices skyrocket in posh parts of Denver, the controversial practice is beginning to move into the suburbs.
Englewood, which issued only two demolition permits in 2012, has seen houses scraped at breakneck pace in recent years, with 75 demolition permits issued since the beginning of 2015.
Though the process of replacing single-family homes with often much larger stock has gotten less attention than gargantuan new apartment complexes, city planners are taking notice.
Many of the scrapes are multi-family units, said Rick Muriby, Golden’s planning director.
“People feel they’re detrimental to the area,” Muriby said. “A lot of the existing pattern has been single-family housing. When you introduce multiple units at a larger size, that’s when people push back.”
Scrape-offs do little to help the need for workforce and starter housing, Muriby said.
“These tend to be luxury units,” Muriby said. “We’re talking about $750,000 for a townhome. People ask who’s affording them, but obviously somebody is. It’s hard to stop market forces.”
The rise in adjacent property values associated with scrape-offs can be a double-edged sword, said Brad Evans, a local housing activist and administrator of Denver FUGLY, a Facebook page where metro-area residents discuss the impacts of rapid growth.
“Let’s say I bought my house in 2003 for $200,000,” Evans said. “My property taxes back then were $580 a year. Now, my taxes have tripled. If I’m someone on a fixed income, that can be a real problem.”
Renters in neighborhoods with lots of scrapes can fare even worse, Evans said.
“There’s not a lot of help for people who have been there long-term,” Evans said. “If people don’t own, they’re out. Renters get bumped out and now they’re driving farther, and traffic gets worse. If a thousand people who could walk or bike to work start driving, that’s a thousand more cars on the road.”
To developers, scrape-offs are a boon to neighborhoods with aging housing stock that is often smaller than current consumer demands.
“The homes that are in the neighborhoods that people want to live in are not suitable for today’s lifestyles or energy requirements or transportation needs or aging-in-place needs,” said Dave Jackson of Jackson Design Build, which has built scrape-offs around the metro area. “We’re replacing it with current modern architecture. The prior architecture is often an 800-square-foot ranch. When you have to pay half a million dollars for that piece of ground, you can’t build an 800-square-foot ranch on it. It can be razed and replaced with a three- or four-plex.”
Jackson acknowledges that scrape-offs can change the feel of a neighborhood.
“We’re seeing a generational turnover, and there are a lot of people who like contemporary styles and those who don’t,” Jackson said. “Some people would call it gentrification. I don’t know. I’m really not a scholar. Some see it as revitalizing old neighborhoods, some people see it as people being pushed out, and that’s true. It’s happening.”
Much of the criticism around scrape-offs on the Denver FUGLY page centers around the aesthetics of scrape-offs, which are often of a new architectural style called Transitional Urban Contemporary, typified by a boxy appearance and often bright colors.
“Some people hate them, and I’m aware of that,” said Gilda Zaragoza, a developer who has built 10 of Englewood’s new homes, and has eight more currently in the works. “But they tend to sell faster than traditional homes.”
Zaragoza said the size demands of modern buyers can push the margins of a lot.
“They’re trying to maximize the square footage of these homes on a smaller lot, and that does sacrifice some of the yard,” Zaragoza said. “It’s challenging trying to have a yard, garage, and as much square footage as possible.”
Zaragoza sees what she does as a labor of love.
“I’m trying to provide a good home to families,” Zaragoza said. “I want to build a good product that helps the town. I’m trying to help property values. I hope people see that a lot of passion goes into it.”
Zaragoza said she determines where to buy and build by looking at a block’s potential for further scrapes in the future. Though much of her activity in Englewood — and those of other scrape-off developers — have been focused on the town’s northern border with Denver, she recently completed a home south of Hampden on South Elati Street in which she bought a two-bedroom, 720-square-foot bungalow built in 1953 and replaced it with a towering duplex, each side of which features four bedrooms and four bathrooms, and is for sale for $645,000 per side.
Does Zaragoza want to see all of Englewood scraped?
“Well, there are a lot of older homes that won’t be scraped because the lot sizes are too small,” Zaragoza said. “But I think Englewood is a wonderful town now. The reality is that this is happening because of demand. As long as people want to move here and want these products, developments will continue to happen.”
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